Even When You Are Gone, Your Legacy Can Live On

The Scary Truth: Naming Godparents Does Not Create Legal Guardians

On Behalf of | Nov 10, 2023 | Estate Planning

As a parent, your top priority is the well-being and future of your children. You plan for their education, health, and happiness, and often this planning includes the tradition of choosing godparents to guide and mentor your children if something happens to you.

While selecting godparents is a meaningful tradition in many cultures, it’s important to understand that naming a godparent is not the same thing as naming a legal guardian for your children. To put it bluntly, even if you have named godparents, if something happens to you, your children could end up in the care of strangers, child protective services or in the long-term care of someone you would never want raising your children.

In this blog, we’ll explain the roles of a godparent and legal guardian and how to ensure your kids are always cared for by the people you choose – no matter what.


A godparent is traditionally someone you name to watch over your child and help them live according to your morals and values. Godparents are meant to be mentors and role models, guiding your child in matters of faith, morality, and character. The role of a godparent is deeply rooted in religious and cultural traditions, and they often participate in religious ceremonies such as baptisms or confirmations.

Whether your family is religious or not, godparents may also play a supportive role in your child’s life by offering emotional support, advice, and friendship. They can be someone your child can turn to for guidance and a listening ear, but their responsibilities are largely informal and non-legal.

Legal Guardians

In contrast, naming a legal guardian for your child is a formal, legal process. A legal guardian is someone who has the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of your child, especially if you, as the parent, are unable to do so. This could occur due to your passing, incapacity, or any situation in which you cannot provide care or make important legal, financial, healthcare or education decisions for your child.

The responsibilities of a legal guardian encompass every area of your child’s life that you would normally manage as a parent. This includes everything from feeding and clothing your child to deciding where they go to school, attending parent-teacher meetings and which extracurricular activities they participate in. Legal guardianship also includes the decisions about where your child lives and what medical treatment they should or should not receive.

A legal guardian may also help manage your child’s financial assets and resources, ensuring their financial well-being. In some cases, if you’ve planned ahead, you may choose to have a different person act as a financial Trustee of the assets you leave for your child, and your chosen Trustee will work alongside the legal guardian to ensure your child is financially supported. In some cases, your guardian and Trustee may be the same person. This is a decision we can help you make during a Life & Legacy Planning Session, based on the specifics of your family dynamics.

Why Naming Godparents Isn’t Enough

While godparents may be deeply caring and involved in your child’s life, they have no legal authority to make decisions for your child unless they are officially appointed as a legal guardian by the court. That means that until that happens, (if it happens) your child’s godparents are not legally able to make any decisions for your children, including their basic care needs, education, and medical care.

If you become incapacitated or die, and have not  legally nominated a guardian (and, ideally, more than one, which is one of the 6 common mistakes families and even lawyers make when naming guardians – click here for our 6 Common Mistakes report) there could be a complex and expensive custody dispute among your family members. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles may assume you would want your children to live under their care rather than the people you named as godparents. This is especially likely if the people you’ve named as godparents are not related to you by blood or marriage.

Without a legal guardian designation in writing and signed with the formalities of a Will, godparents may find themselves in an expensive court battle over custody rights, and they may not even be named as the legal guardians of your children at all. In fact, the court could name someone you would never want raising your kids as their legal guardian.

Life-long Legal Protection for Kids

While godparents hold a significant place in your child’s life as mentors and role models, they don’t possess the legal authority to make critical decisions for your child or provide for your child’s physical and financial well-being on their own. Instead, consider combining the roles of godparents and legal guardians into one. If you’ve already chosen people you trust to serve as lifelong role models and spiritual guardians for your children as their godparents, why not give those people the legal authority to truly perform those duties if something happens to you?

If you aren’t sure who the best guardian or godparent is for your children, we can help. We’ll walk you through a heart-centered process for choosing guardians who genuinely care for your child’s well-being and share your values. Plus, we’ll ensure they have the financial and legal tools needed to give your child the best life possible if you can’t be there.Getting started is easy. You can even nominate permanent legal guardians for your kids right now using my free website available at this link, and I encourage you to name permanent legal guardians right now.

But don’t stop there. The best way to keep your children safe and secure is to create a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan® that keeps your children  in the care of the people you choose in any situation, out of the care of anyone you wouldn’t want, ensures your children  can receive prompt medical care, and that the authorities know who to contact in an emergency so your children are never placed in protective custody – even for a minute.

This article is a service of Amber C. Saunders, Esq., Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge. The content is sourced from Personal Family Lawyer® for use by Personal Family Lawyer® firms, a source believed to be providing accurate information. This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal, or investment advice. If you are seeking legal advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material.