What is the Difference Between a Godparent and a Legal Guardian?

Updated: Oct 12

Like the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Aside from teachers, grandparents and a local babysitter, many families also choose a godparent.

Choosing a legal guardian or a godparent for your child is a big decision. They’ll probably play a significant role in your child’s upbringing and may even become their primary carer, should the worst happen.

Many folks choose very trusted and beloved friends as godparents, and might assume that those are the people who will step up to care for their children if something happens to them. But—surprise, surprise—the concept of godparent is not legally binding, so as you are thinking about your estate planning and who should raise your children if you are not around, it is important to understand the distinction.

How is a Godparent Different From a Legal Guardian?
Can a Godparent Be a Legal Guardian?
How to Appoint a Legal Guardian?
How to Choose a Legal Guardian for Your Child?

How is a Godparent Different From a Legal Guardian?

Simply put, the major difference between a godparent and a legal guardian is the legality of the relationship.

Traditionally, godparents in the Christian faith are part of the baptism service and commit to being responsible for ensuring the child’s religious education and spiritual development throughout their life. Godparents have always been thought of as having a special role in the child’s life and are usually close friends or family members.

Today, some parents will appoint godparents even if there is no church baptism. Godparents, whether religious or not, can act as role models and help guide children spiritually, emotionally and practically. Most are honored to be asked to be a godparent.

Godparents have also been seen as, sometimes assumed to be, the person or people who would care for or bring up the child should their parents die. However, it is important to remember that godparents neither automatically have any legal rights over a child nor legal obligations in bringing up the child.

Can a Godparent Be a Legal Guardian?

The short answer is yes, but only if you appoint them as one. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages of choosing your child’s godparent as legal guardian, so weigh your decision carefully.

Having your child’s godparent appointed as their legal guardian means this person is in your child’s life from birth. In the event something does happen to you, it may not be as traumatic of a transition to live with the godparent because your child is already familiar with this person.

However, just because someone can be a good godparent doesn’t mean they’re well-equipped to be your child’s legal guardian.

For example, a godparent might be warm and affectionate toward your child but disorganized in their personal and financial life. That means that they may be the perfect person for your kid to speak to when there is a squabble at school, but not the best person for coordinating all the logistics of your child’s financial and educational needs.

It is possible, and often a good idea, to appoint two different persons. One is the guardian of the child and one is the guardian of their assets. That way one person steps into more of a parental role, and a different person manages the finances on behalf of the child.

Of course, if you have a relatively small estate, you might want to make sure that you are not creating an additional hurdle for the person watching your child, if they need to go through a third party every time they need money for basic expenses.

Again, it is a lot to consider, and appointing more than one person can seem complicated. If your family situation is complex or there are other factors such as your nominated guardians living outside of the state or the country, you should consult with a specialist to make sure your paperwork is in order.

How to Appoint a Legal Guardian?

Only parents with parental responsibilities and rights can appoint a guardian, so if you do not qualify, you would need to apply for them first.

You then need to review your Will and outline who will be responsible for your child if you die. Most parents update their Will and appoint a guardian soon after the birth of their child. If you do not yet have a Will, it is recommended that you have one and register it as soon as possible.

You can also choose alternate guardians, should the person you originally intended and stated in your Will is unable to take on parental responsibilities.

It is also important to review your intentions regularly as relationships and circumstances can change. Your child could develop close bonds with other family members and friends, which might make them more suitable guardians.

Before making any changes to your Will or appointing a guardian, make sure to speak with the person first. It usually come across as honorable to most people to act as your child’s guardian, but some may not be ready for that responsibility or feel they are not the suitable person.

How to Choose a Legal Guardian for Your Child?

Choosing a guardian for your child is a big decision. You want to select someone who has your child’s best interests in mind and will help them recover after your death. There are many things to think about when choosing your child’s legal guardian, for example:

  • Nurturing and caregiving skills: it is important to think about a potential guardian's parenting skills. You want to make sure they will provide the same love, support and encouragement as you would at home.

  • Family structure: you would want your child to be part of a stable, comforting family environment. Consider whether the guardian already has a family and if they are be able to handle the responsibilities of raising another child. Your brother or sister who are enjoying their single life might not be the best choice right now.

  • Lifestyle: a child’s lifestyle plays an important role in how they see the world, so you may want to choose someone that shares a similar lifestyle to your family. This aids transition which will also make it easier for your child to maintain their routine, habits and ways of life.

  • Practical circumstances: while selecting a guardian is, of course, an emotional decision, it is also important to consider practical factors like location, living arrangements and income. For example, you may want to select someone who lives nearby, so your child does not have to change school.

As a parent, you know what is best for your child.

Whether or not you choose a godparent for your kids (and whether or not you name the godparent as legal guardian), the most important thing is to prepare for the future—now.

Writing your Will is the very first step, and it’s an important one. But that’s not enough. In the digital age, the next step is to store your Will online. Otherwise, what happens if your person of confidence is not able to find your Will in a timely manner? liteWill is the only Will registration platform that is available globally and that provides the option to store your Will online. ‘A Will that is not online is like a Will that does not exist’.

This portion of the website is for information only. The statements and opinions are the expression of their author, not of liteWill, and have not been evaluated for accuracy, completeness or changes in the law. Information contained in this article is not a substitute for tax or legal advice.

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