If you’re in the process of choosing someone to be your children’s guardian if you and their other parent were to both pass away (in a car accident or plane crash, for example), it’s essential to understand a couple of key terms — guardian of the person and guardian of the estate.

You may choose one person to carry out both of those responsibilities or you may decide it’s best to name two different people — particularly if your children will be inheriting a significant amount of money when you die. Let’s look at what these roles involve.

Guardian of the person

This is the one who will be responsible for the physical and emotional well-being of your children. They will provide them with a home, education, medical care and everything they need as they grow up.

Guardian of the estate

This person is responsible for managing your children’s finances. It involves making sure that their living and other expenses are covered. If the children have been left a considerable inheritance or perhaps awarded a large settlement after a wrongful death lawsuit if their parents died at the hands of a drunk driver, the guardian of the estate is responsible for making sure that money is invested and spent wisely for the child’s benefit.

Often, parents choose one person (or perhaps a couple) to act in both capacities. If there’s not a considerable amount of money in a complex mix of assets, this is often the easiest route to take.

If you do name separate people for these two roles, it’s essential that they’re able to work well together and have a relationship of mutual trust. If they don’t, your children could be the ones who suffer most.

These are big decisions and shouldn’t be made in haste. It’s also essential that the person or people you choose are willing and able to take on the responsibility should the need arise. Your attorney can provide valuable guidance as you complete this essential part of your estate planning.