Testamentary Guardians – Looking After Your Children In Your Will

Wills predominantly deal with the financial side of your affairs, but did you know your Will can also make provision for the care of your child or children upon your death?

In Western Australia, a parent or legal guardian of a child may by Will appoint a testamentary guardian for a child or children under the age of 18 years.

Children under 18 are often referred to in Wills as ‘minor’ or ‘infant’ children. The guardian is a ‘testamentary’ guardian because the guardian is appointed by Will which is a testamentary document.

The appointment of a testamentary guardian only takes effect on the death of the last surviving parent or legal guardian of the child. The testamentary guardian’s appointment ends when the child attains the age of 18 years.

Once appointed, the testamentary guardian is responsible for making long term decisions regarding the welfare and development of your child and also has the daily care of the child.

In considering who to appoint as a testamentary guardian, it is important to think about practical matters including:

• the relationship of the proposed guardian to the child
• the testamentary guardian’s own circumstances (including their living arrangements, family structure and financial position), and
• the relationship between the proposed guardian and the executor appointed under your Will.

The executor of your Will has discretion to release funds from your estate to the testamentary guardian for the maintenance, education and advancement in life of your minor children. As such, the executor of your Will and your proposed testamentary guardian need to maintain a good relationship and work together in the best interests of the children.

The appointment of a testamentary guardian is subject to the jurisdiction of the Family Court of Western Australia. If there is a dispute about the appointment of a testamentary guardian, or if no testamentary guardian is validly appointed by Will, a person with a “sufficient interest” may apply to the Family Court for parenting orders in relation to a minor child.

An application for guardianship may be contested if more than one member of your family wishes to become the guardian(s) of your minor children. The Court will take into account any wishes expressed in your Will as part of the decision about what is in the best interests of the child. A Family Court application may also incur legal costs which are payable by your estate.

In order to make your wishes clear about who will look after your child upon your death, it is important to include a guardianship clause in your Will.

At Culshaw Miller Lawyers, we work with our clients to determine the most suitable person or persons to be the testamentary guardian of your minor children. Our Wills are drafted to include:

• a direction to the executor that a testamentary guardian is not to incur a financial liability as a result of looking after your child
• any conditions or wishes that you would like the testamentary guardian to consider when making decisions about your children; and
• any needs which may be particular to each of your children.

To make enquiries regarding appointing a testamentary guardian for your child or to speak to a member of our estate planning team in relation to your Will, please contact our office on (08) 9488 1300.