I’m often asked by clients whether the selection of Godparents for their children is the same as naming legal guardians for their children. The answer is “no.”
Guardians and Godparents are entirely different roles. The former is a legally recognized position and the latter is a ceremonial title significant only in religious and cultural right.
A guardian is a person, if formally appointed in a will, assumes all parental responsibilities for the child when the parents die.
A Godparent, in the history of the church, had a role to assist parents in raising their children in the Christian faith. Godparents were typically recognized when the child was baptized. For many generations, Godparents played such a large role in the prototypical Irish family structure that it was customarily understood that that person was to also serve as the guardian of the child. The role of the Godparent has become statistically less prevalent in recent years. It seems as though the development has caused additional uncertainty over the discrepancy between the two roles.
This is not to say that the same person cannot be both Godparent and guardian. However, the necessary legal steps must be taken in order to ensure that the Godparent is formally recognized in the eyes of the court to be a child’s legal guardian. It is very common for this important step to be overlooked. A Godparent is not a legal substitution for a guardian.
Without being designated in a will, the Godparent is not guaranteed to be appointed the legal guardian of a child. The selection of a Godparent may be used to help determine the parent’s wishes, but there are a number of other variables to take into consideration. One such instance could be where there are multiple children in a family with multiple Godparents. It is common for parents to name different Godparents for each of their children as a matter of a ceremonial gesture. However, parents rarely want their children to be separated from one another in cases of tragedy, and would prefer one guardian to care for all of their children.
Creating a will that explicitly names a legal guardian is the most advisable way to ensure parents that their children are cared for by their preferred persons.