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Are Godparents legal custodians of your children/dependants in the event of your death in 2023?

What is a godparent?

Godparents have a long history in the Christian church. Traditionally, godparents sponsor a child’s baptism and help their godchild live the Christian life. Historically, the role also entailed assuming parental responsibilities should the child’s parents pass away.

However, the social and legal landscape has changed over time, and the role of godparents has also evolved. Improved life expectancies, the advent of wills and estate planning and society’s increasing secularisation have played a part. Instead of offering strictly spiritual direction, godparents may provide guidance in other crucial elements of a child’s life.

Do godparents have any legal rights?

While godparents are an important part of Christian ceremonies and traditions, the role itself doesn’t confer any legal rights or obligations. Therefore, you must not assume that the people you nominated as godparents will automatically gain custody of your children if you die.

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Who will get guardianship?

Typically, if only one parent dies, the surviving parent will become the child’s primary carer. If both parents die, a person interested in the care, welfare and development of the child can apply to the court to become the child’s legal guardian. When considering these applications, the court must be satisfied it’s in the child’s best interests to pass into that person’s guardianship. Usually, the applicants will be grandparents, older siblings or another person with a significant interest in the child’s care.

The best way to account for your child’s welfare if you die is to appoint a guardian through your will.

Testamentary guardianship

A testamentary guardian is appointed through your will to make long-term decisions about your child’s care after your death. These decisions can include factors like education and religious needs.

Your child may not live with the testamentary guardian. If one parent is alive, the child will likely reside with them while guardianship obligations are split between the parent and the guardian.

A godparent may be an obvious choice for a testamentary guardian. They are someone who shares your values and should understand your wishes for your child’s future. Appointing them a testamentary guardian will give a Court, if there is a dispute about guardianship, a strong indication of your request that the person plays a key part in your child’s upbringing.

No appointed guardian

Without any surviving parents and no appointed testamentary guardian, the court will rely on a suitable person applying for guardianship. The child will likely enter into the state’s care only if no suitable person can apply.

Seek legal advice about guardianship

This underscores the importance of making a legal declaration regarding who you wish to become your child’s guardian after your death. While godparents are important in the Christian tradition, they are not legally recognised in family law.

If you wish to ensure your child’s godparents have conferred guardianship, appointing them in your will is your best opportunity. The Life Law Solutions team can help you understand your guardianship options and protect your child’s future.

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