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Who Will Take Care of Your Kids If You’re Gone? Analyzing Wills Across America

By dailin
Published April 29, 2019

Confronting mortality is particularly daunting if you have children. In the event of this unthinkable tragedy, who will take care of them? No one wants to think about what happens if you die prematurely, but creating a will forces you to consider that possibility and plan for it.

At Tomorrow, we help people create a will. Part of this process is about planning what happens to your assets when you die, and specifying who will be the legal guardian for your children if that happens.

Who is most commonly assigned to be a child’s guardian in the event both parents pass away? We analyzed tens of thousands of wills, to supply parents with answers.

Legal Guardians in America

By a significant margin, the most commonly-assigned guardian for children is the will-maker’s mother, followed by sister. After that, there is a steep drop-off, but father and brother are third and fourth most popular respectively.

Parents typically assign guardianship to someone who lives in the same state. When it comes to age, if the guardian is a parent of the will-maker, they are typically in their mid to late 50s while siblings are typically in their mid-thirties.

68% of the time the will-maker assigns guardianship to a female. About 10% of will-makers assign a friend, though in some states that’s more prevalent than others. Same-sex couples have very similar guardianship choices as opposite-sex couples do, though they are more likely to assign guardianship to a friend instead of family member.


Before diving into results, it’s worth spending a moment on the data source and methodology of this analysis. We looked at anonymized data from tens of thousands of wills where a guardian was specified. We looked at who the will-maker assigns as the guardian in the event that both parents pass away. The relationships listed in the article are vis-à-vis the person who created the account is making the will.


Who Gets Assigned as Legal Guardian?

As you’re thinking about who you should assign to be your child(ren)’s potential guardian, what does everyone else do? Below is the breakdown of wills by who is assigned guardian in the event that both parents are deceased:



As they say, a mother’s work is never done. Nearly a quarter of the time the will-maker assigns their own mother as the guardian. This is nearly ten times higher than their mother-in-law. The second most common guardian is one’s sister, which is selected 17.4% of the time. All other people (including father and brother) register less than 10% of the time.


How Old Are Assigned Guardians?

How old are the people trusted to take care of your children if you’re gone? The next chart shows the average age of the guardian by their relationship to the will-maker:



For all the benefits of using your parents as a guardian, the disadvantage is they are older and may not be around or have the physical capabilities to parent children as they age. The average guardian that is the will-maker’s mother is 55.5 years old and the father is 57.9 years old. In contrast, a sibling is about 20 years younger.


Women Are Assigned as Guardians More Often than Men

In general, there is a very high preference for female guardians. Nearly 70% of the time a female is assigned guardianship and this preference for female is strong at every category of relationship:





People are approximately 300% more likely to assign guardianship to an Aunt versus an Uncle and 200% more likely to choose a female friend over a male friend. Even when it comes to siblings, people trust their sisters twice as often as their brothers to be guardians.


Guardians: Same-Sex Couples vs. Opposite-Sex Couples

Is there any difference for how same-sex couples assign guardianship versus opposite-sex couples? The chart below shows the comparison of who is assigned guardianship by relationship type:



Guardianship choices for same-sex couples are very similar to couples where both partners are different sexes. Moms and sisters are still the preferred guardians for same-sex couples. One difference, however, is that same-sex couples tend to have a higher rate of assigning friends as guardians:




Local Guardians?

When considering guardianship choices, parents are clearly choosing options where their kids do not have to move states.


Part of this reason is that people tend to choose family members as guardians and family members may live in the same state as you. However, choosing a local guardian has the added benefit of not subjecting children to an out-of-state move during a tumultuous period of their lives.


Choosing a guardian in your will is not pleasant to think about, but it’s part of parenting and planning.

One thing that’s clear from this data is that you have a lot of options in choosing guardians. People have a strong preference for assigning female guardians, particularly their mothers and sisters. But at the same time, more than 30% of the time a male was chosen as guardian. Most of the time people choose family members, but a very significant percentage of people choose a friend, particularly if both parents are the same gender. Parents prefer guardians be local, but over a quarter of the time they are out-of-state.

In choosing a guardian, you can take solace that this data shows there is no “right way” to do things and you have the ability to choose what you think would be right for your family.

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