I often hear in conversation (and I once believed this too!) that if a minor child has godparents, then the same people will be legal guardians of the child if something happens to the child’s parents. This is not true. Godparents and guardians are two different roles and are appointed in different ways.
A godparent is someone who sponsors a child’s baptism into a church, usually a church of some Christian denomination. During a baptism, the godparent or godparents make profession of faith for the child being baptized (the godchild) and assume an obligation to serve as proxies for the parents if the parents either are unable or neglect to provide for the religious training of the child. A godparent is more a ceremonial role in a child’s life; churches have no power to appoint legal guardians for children. However, historically, the godparent was viewed as the person to be guardian of a child if the parents were deceased or unable, which is why this modern day misconception exists.
A guardian, on the other hand, is a person or persons formally named in a Will. The nominated guardian is the person who a court would appoint as being legal guardian of a child, should both parents pass and/or be unable to care for the child. Here at Epilawg, we’ve had many posts on items to consider when naming a guardian (see Anna Lima’s post, Appointing a Guardian for Minor Children and Jamie Held’s post, Naming a Guardian) in your Will.
Things to Consider
The same people can be named in both roles. However, there may be good reason to select different people for different reasons in each role. As most would assume, there are many more responsibilities with being a guardian than there being a godparent.
Keep in mind, that if a child has godparents and no guardians, if something does happen to the child’s parents, the court would take into consideration who was a godparent when considering who to appoint as the child’s guardian.
Another item to consider is that godparents are chosen only once, while parents can change the nominated guardians. So, as relationships change and evolve over time, it may become important for a parent to update their Will to name different guardians. This cannot be done with godparents.
Given all of the above, if you need to nominate a guardian in your Will (or make changes to this nomination), be sure to contact an estate planning attorney in your area.