Care of children

Parental responsibility

If you have children, then looking after them is likely to be your first concern, and that concern extends to ensuring that they are properly cared for if you die. If your children are still under 18, parental responsibility will need to be given to someone appointed as their guardian. You'll probably want to think carefully about who they are, and how they should exercise their parental responsibility.

Parental responsibility includes all of the legal rights, duties and responsibilities that a parent has in relation to a child. While it does not necessarily involve living with the child or financially providing for them, it does include the ability to make decisions about the child’s upbringing. Determining who has parental responsibility can be complicated, and is explained further in our Parental responsibility page. 

Guardian

If you do not appoint a guardian, and there is no one else with parental responsibility, the court will appoint one for you should it be needed. The court’s decision is determined by what is in the best interests of the child’s welfare, but crucially the court will need to make an assessment.

No matter how likely it is they will be eventually appointed, no-one will automatically become a guardian unless they were appointed by someone with parental responsibility. So if you want some control over the person caring for your children you need to choose a guardian. More information on the role of a guardian is included in our pages What is a guardian? and Appointing a guardian in a will.

Letter of wishes

It is also important to be aware that in some situations appointing a guardian can be complicated. This is most commonly the case when the parents of the child are divorced or separated or when several people have parental responsibility. When appointing a guardian it is important to discuss your decision with anyone else who has parental responsibility and with the guardian themselves. For a full list of factors to consider, see our page Is appointing a guardian under a will final?

To accompany the appointment of a guardian, you can explain how you would like your children cared for in a letter of wishes. This is a non-binding legal document that can be taken into account both by the courts and by the guardian when making decisions affecting the children’s upbringing. However, as it is not binding it is sensible to discuss the content of a letter of wishes with the guardian in advance. More information is included in our Letter of wishes page.

(If a term is in bold, that means it's in our Glossary.)