Testamentary Guardian

When should you appoint a testamentary guardian and what do they do?

A testamentary guardian is appointed via a Will or Deed to “step into your shoes” as a parent when you die. A testamentary guardian is not appointed to care for the child. That is something quite different and cannot be provided for in a Will. A testamentary guardian is appointed alongside the surviving parent (usually) for input into “the big important decisions” about a child’s upbringing like education (where do they go to school), health (major medical decisions not day to day bumps and sniffles), religion, residence (which country or region do they live in, not a specific house or street), and permission to marry under the age of 18. These rights and responsibilities end when the child attains the age of 18 years or earlier if the child marries, enters a civil union, or lives with another person as a de facto partner.

Why do it?

It is worth considering if you have separated from your child’s other parent to ensure your views about upbringing are represented in the event of your death or if you are worried your family will be “cut off” from the child when you die.
If you are still happily in a relationship it is probably not necessary to appoint a testamentary guardian as it is likely you can trust your spouse/partner to make good guardianship decisions for your children if you die. If you are worried about what happens if you both die together then you could each say in your wills that “if we both die together, we appoint X as a guardian.” If you are the sole guardian of your child (the other parent has died already) then you should definitely consider appointing a testamentary guardian.

So who does care for the kids if we die?

The surviving parent would usually remain carer for the child unless unwilling or unable or unsuitable. If you have both died it is assumed that the family will rally around the child to take them in. Whomever they live with (which may be the testamentary guardian if appointed or may not be – there is no default assumption) may then file an application for a parenting order providing them day to day care together with guardianship orders if necessary.
A testamentary guardian could apply for a parenting order if they wanted to contest day-to-day care or seek contact rights to the child and as they are already a guardian they would not need the leave of the Court to do so.
Before an application for a parenting order can be filed, the guardian will normally have to provide evidence that he or she has sought to resolve the matter with the other guardian/s by family dispute resolution unless the circumstances are urgent.
The legal test to determine a child’s care arrangements is “what is in the welfare and best interests of the child” so it depends on all the circumstances at the time.

Things to remember

  • Only one testamentary guardian can be appointed.
  • The consent of the person to be appointed as a testamentary guardian is not required,
  • A person appointed as a testamentary guardian cannot decline the appointment. As a guardian of the child, the appointee could apply to the court for an order for his or her own removal. Another guardian could also apply for removal of the testamentary guardian.
  • A testamentary guardian has the same rights and responsibilities as the living parent/guardian but only upon the death of the appointor. They have no say in the upbringing of the child prior to that parent’s death.
  • By appointing a testamentary guardian you are not appointing somebody to care for your child if you die.

Leesa specialises in family law including relationship property, family protection claims, parenting, relocation, and care and protection of children.