Appointing a guardian in a will

Who can you appoint as guardians?

Guardians can only be appointed for a child under 18. The appointment is made by a parent or other person who has what is known as ‘parental responsibility’ (in effect legal responsibility) for the child. For more information on what parental responsibility is, please see our page Parental responsibility.

How to appoint guardians

The appointment of guardians must be:

  • in writing;
  • dated; and
  • signed by the person making the appointment.

The appointment does not need to be made in your will, but it is a good idea to do this as a will is less likely to be mislaid or forgotten than a less formal document. If you already have a will which in every other respect is fine, you can appoint guardians for your children in a simple codicil.

When does the appointment take effect?

Generally, the appointment comes into effect on the death of the second parent (or whoever currently has parental responsibility for the child). 

Who should you appoint?

A guardian must be an individual; you cannot appoint a company to act as your child’s guardian. You can appoint more than one individual and in fact, many parents choose a married couple to be guardians for their children. You can choose up to four people but two is usually considered a sensible number: the more people you have, the more problems or instability there could be for your child. 

When choosing guardians, you should consider the following factors:

  • How well do your children know the proposed guardians?
  • How old are the proposed guardians? Will they be able to cope with very young children or teenagers?
  • Will your children have to move school?
  • Do the proposed guardians have a house big enough for your children?
  • How many children do the proposed guardians already have of their own? Can they cope with more?
  • Do the proposed guardians have the sort of moral, religious and other beliefs that you agree with?

By far the most usual scenario is that other family members are appointed as guardians – grandparents, aunts or uncles being the most frequent choices. Godparents are also often selected. But there is no rule that says this has to be the case, and their appointment is never automatic. 

It is best not to appoint as guardians the people you are naming as your executors. This is because the executors usually become the trustees of any trusts created by your will, and it is usually a good idea for your children’s guardians and the trustees of your children’s property to be different people. The trustees will make financial provision for the children and then transfer the property to them when they reach the age to inherit.

Substitute guardians

You may want to think about substitute guardians who will act if your first choice of guardians dies before you or is unable or unwilling to act (for whatever reason) when the time comes. 

You can appoint substitute guardians in your will, which avoids the need to amend your will if something happens to your first choice of guardians.

Is the appointment of a guardian in a will the final word?

You should review your appointment of guardians every two years or so, just to ensure that the people you have chosen are still appropriate and willing to accept the responsibility. If you do decide to change the appointment, you can do so very easily by making a codicil to your will.