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Godparents and guardians – two separate roles

Who will be responsible for your children should the unthinkable happen?  This is one of the most important decisions a parent can make and an inability to decide or agree can be the main reason why people don’t make a Will.

Many parents believe this decision is made when they choose a child’s godparent.  This is not the case.  The role of a godparent is mainly a moral and religious one and continues throughout the child’s life. The potential guardian may be the same as their godparent but there are additional legal steps that must be taken to formalise the appointment.  Guardianship also ceases when the child reaches 18 years of age.

Relatives or close friends are often chosen as godparents and the role they play in a child’s life is an important one.  They are usually involved in a child’s upbringing, assisting them with choices in life and encouraging their personal development.  Although this is a vital role, it is not a legal one and there is no legal relationship between a child and their godparent.

The role of a guardian is a legal one.  An appointed guardian, unlike a godparent, assumes parental responsibility for a child following the death of their parents.  This means they have all the same rights that a parent has in respect of the child and can make decisions in relation to their upbringing.

The appointment of a guardian is usually done by including a specific provision in your Will stating who should look after your child.  The guardian is entrusted with the legal authority to make decisions about your child.  This includes decisions in relation to education, health and welfare.  The appointed guardian can be your child’s godparent, but it should be remembered that the roles are separate ones. The appointment is effective immediately upon the death of the last person with parental responsibility.  However, if a dispute arises about the appointment, the court will make the final decision and will look at the arrangement that is in the best interests of the child.

If you do not have a Will in place or do not include a guardian provision in your Will, no one is automatically appointed or has the legal authority to look after your child.  This can lead to disputes between family members and the courts may appoint someone on your behalf, who may not be the person you would have chosen.

If you already have a Will which appoints a guardian for your child, you should review this regularly to ensure that the appointment is still appropriate and in accordance with your wishes.  The personal circumstances of an appointed guardian may have changed – they will be older and may not wish to take on young children, or you may no longer have any contact with them.  It is important to discuss the appointment with potential guardians to make sure they are happy to take on the role and, depending on their age, you may choose to discuss the proposed appointment with your child.

If you would like more information on this topic or would like to discuss making a Will, please contact a member of our Private Client team.


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