Coping with the loss of a loved one is never an easy endeavor, and when young children lose a parent, the impact becomes an even greater burden. Guardianship in California can be tricky without a well-established plan for who should take custody of a child after their parent passes away. Estate planning is a vital responsibility for those with children under the age of majority.
Custodial and non-custodial parents
At the time of birth for an unmarried couple, or the time of divorce of a married couple, a custodial parent is typically established. The custodial parent is responsible for long-term living arrangements, medical care and educational needs. They are the primary decision-makers for daily activities.
Upon the death of a custodial parent, child custody will be determined by a last will and testament. If the custodial parent has not documented their wishes, children may become the responsibility of one or more of the following:
- Non-custodial parent
- Other family member
- Close friend
- Child welfare organization
Child custody planning
To prevent uncertainty in child custody cases, parents should take the time now to plan ahead for the future. Obviously, child custody should not be left to chance. Despite the importance of this sense of security, many parents fail to adequately record their preferences. This lack of planning could result in less-than-ideal child custody arrangements. The best way for parents to avoid unpleasant living conditions or costly custody battles is to properly document their wishes.
Family law guidelines vary by state, and custodial parents may have to consider where their children will live. If the custodial parent passes away in California but wants their child to be taken care of by a close relative in another state, there may be special considerations. A lawyer with experience in such situations may be able to provide guidance.