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Reality Check: Guardian Angel

Q. My husband and I are making a will, and we're having trouble picking a guardian for our baby boy. No one seems perfect -- how can we decide?

The worst thing about selecting a guardian for your child is facing the fact that you really are irreplaceable. No one else can have your history or connection to your child, and maybe not your values or gentle touch either. So take a big gulp, accept this, and move on to naming someone. The good news: Odds are, a guardian will never be needed, as it is extremely unlikely that both you and your husband will die before your child reaches adulthood. All you're doing is planning for the worst-case scenario. Choosing an imperfect guardian now is better than not choosing one and having a judge decide who gets to raise your child.

What many parents overlook in making this decision is that it's not carved in stone. You can change your will. So, for example, if you think the grandparents are the best choice right now, put them down as guardians. In five years, your sister's boyfriend -- who spends too much time in front of the TV watching pro wrestling with the volume turned way up -- may have passed the bar exam, outgrown his obsession with The Rock, and become an intelligent brother-in-law and your child's much-loved uncle. At that point, you can switch.

In terms of the qualities that make someone a suitable candidate, grandparents may have the closest emotional connection to your son, and they're not busy raising other children. But siblings and friends may have more stamina and patience, and some people consider other kids in the house to be a major plus. Of course, you owe it to those you have in mind to discuss with them how they'd feel about being a guardian. These talks will give you a better idea of who might be right than your own private deliberations ever will.

As for considering your potential guardian's finances, in choosing what someone has to offer, I'd look for love every time. And buy lots of life insurance. You can't buy love insurance, except in the form of loving people.