Jean Chatzky
If something were to happen to you, who would be responsible for your children? Jean talks with attorney Alexis Martin Neely, author of Wear Clean Underwear! A Fast, Fun, Friendly and Essential Guide to Legal Planning for Busy Parents, about what parents should do to plan for their children's futures.

More than half of all parents in the United States have not named guardians for their children, mostly due either to fear or procrastination, Alexis says. While it may be difficult to choose a guardian, it's critical to have some kind of legal documentation in place. "It's a lot better to tell your family during your lifetime than for them to fight it out after you're gone," Alexis says. 

Alexis recommends sending letters to the guardians you appoint with detailed instructions about what you want for your children's futures. Guardians can be named without a full will or the help of a lawyer, Alexis says. 

Alexis says determining your children's guardians can be an easy process if you follow these steps:
  • Look at the short-term. Your first choice for a guardian may live out of town and not be readily available if something happens to you. Name a short-term guardian who lives within 20 minutes of your home and who will be able to show up with legal documentation, Alexis says. In addition, carry an ID card in your wallet stating that you have minor children at home, along with a list of emergency contacts.
  • Think beyond the money. Guardianship is really about making sure that your kids will be raised with your values, insights, stories and experiences, Alexis says. She recommends writing out instructions for how you want your kids to be raised, sometimes known as an ethical will.
  • Exclude people you don't want. If there is a family member that you absolutely don't want to become your child's guardian, you can exclude them confidentially. By doing so, they can never challenge your decision. If you are working with a lawyer, he will keep a written copy of these instructions on file. If not, write this decision down and keep it with your other important documents.
The information provided here is general advice and you should always consult your own financial adviser before making major financial decisions, including investments or changes to your portfolio. The opinions expressed by the hosts, guests and callers to Oprah Radio are strictly their own.

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