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A father and his three kids on a ski hill (brocreative)
A father and his three kids on a ski hill (brocreative)

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Who will take care of the kids if you're gone? Add to ...

Nobody likes to think about it – what would happen to their children in the event of their own deaths – which may explain why so few Canadian parents have any kind of formal guardianship plan.

According to a recent poll by BMO Harris Private Banking, just 37 per cent of Canadians have appointed a guardian for their children under the age of 18. Although there’s no rule of thumb when it comes to money, half of those surveyed also said they didn’t know how much financial support to leave a prospective guardian to cover the sudden new expenses associated with raising a child or children.

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“What’s really alarming is a full two-thirds of Canadian parents with minor children do not have a named guardian in their will,” said Tracey Campbell, director of wealth services at BMO Harris Private Banking.

The ramifications can be complex, cause instability in the child’s already disrupted life and could be left to the courts to sort out, she explained.

“You could have competing claims which could lead to disharmony in the family if one party is successful and the other isn’t. It may be very damaging to the child as far as maintaining relationships within the extended family,” Ms. Campbell continued, “Or even worse, maybe nobody applies and then the state is basically the guardian of the child and will have to determine a placement for that child.”

The survey of 374 Canadians with minor children, which was conducted in November by Leger Marketing, also found that 40 per cent of respondents do not have a will.

“I think it’s complex,” said Ms. Campbell, “There’s a lot of thought that goes into it and that makes it easy to put off.”

But guardianship should be reviewed from time to time. There have been cases of people verbally naming a guardian, which may conflict with what’s written in the will, and instances where the naming of the guardian comes as a surprise.

“The court maintains the jurisdiction of what is in the best interests of the child, but the naming of the guardian by the custodial parent in the will is highly persuasive,” Ms. Campbell said.

Even though respondents haven’t officially appointed guardians, 80 per cent of respondents have given some thought to whom they would name and the majority of those point to relatives.

Forty-seven per cent said they would appoint their siblings, 17 per cent said their parents and 16 per cent said other family members such as aunts, uncles or grandparents.

And according to Ms. Campbell, the respondents were on the right track about what to look for in potential guardians. Almost all of those surveyed said parenting skills were the most important factor, followed closely by financial stability.

With all this in mind, this might be a good time to set a New Year’s resolution, she suggested.

“The good news is they are thinking about it,” Ms. Campbell said, “The overwhelming majority of Canadians with minor children have put their mind to it. It’s just a matter of getting it done.”

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