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  • Writer's pictureAnna Kmiec

If you died today, what would happen to your child?

No one wants to think about this question. But my experience has taught me how not doing so can have devastating consequences.

With a child under the age of 18 losing a parent every 22 minutes*, this possibility becomes a reality more often than you might think.

Many parents assume their children will automatically fall under the care of extended family or friends when they die. But this isn’t always the case according to the law. As dad-of-one Martin found out.

They could be taken into care

Joanne and Martin were long-term partners. They weren’t married or in a civil partnership, and Martin’s name wasn’t registered on their daughter Beatrice’s birth certificate.

As anyone who’s had a baby knows, life for Martin quickly became busy. So sorting out this paperwork fell off his list of tasks. Then Joanne died in a road accident. She had no Will.

As Martin’s name wasn’t on Beatrice’s birth certificate, and they were not married or in a civil partnership, he didn’t have automatic rights of parental responsibility for his own child according to the law.

With no court order, parental responsibility agreement, or appointment in Joanne’s Will, Beatrice was taken into care while the courts decided who should look after her.

They could be left adrift

Grandparents, godparents or extended family and friends expect to be automatically granted guardianship of a child after parents die. Yet they too have no legal rights according to UK law.

If both parents pass away, the individuals named as Testamentary Guardians in their Wills will be granted these rights.

If no one is named and there’s no Child Arrangement Order or Special Guardian Order in place, a child is likely to be placed in foster care when their parents die. Then the courts will decide where they will live and who will pay for their maintenance.

Though a foster carer will protect a child, it could mean a child is separated for weeks or months from those they know and love while their case goes through the courts.

They could be safe with a loved one

To leave no doubt about who will care for a child if the worst happens, mums or dads with parental responsibility need to appoint a guardian in their Will.

Talking through the options with a professional Will writer can help you put the right protection in place based on your relationship status and custody arrangements.

For example, if you are divorced or have annulled your civil partnership with your child’s parent, a Child Arrangement Order may be in place. This will affect how guardians can be appointed.

Though there’s plenty to consider, getting the right advice means you’ll have peace of mind that, whatever happens, your child will be cared for by someone you know and love.

To get free, professional advice on how to protect your child in your Will, contact us on 01788 712 018 or visit our website: to book a FREE initial appointment.

*Source: Childhood Bereavement Network

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