As parents, we prepare for the worst and hope for the best. As COVID-19 impacts families across the world, there are several important steps parents can take now to proactively prepare for the situation that one or both parents might fall ill or need to be hospitalized.
This article is not intended to paint a bleak picture for your family or alarm you into thinking the worst. However, it is to support you as parents – because even during this state of uncertainty, there are things you can control, and actions you can take now, to help guide you and your family through challenging or traumatic times.
What Documents Do I Need to Have in Place?
Three important things: a will, a power of attorney for healthcare and a power of attorney for finances. The will is where you designate a guardian for your child should your family face a worst case scenario. The power of attorney for healthcare lets you indicate your wishes and designate someone to make decisions for you if you are not able to communicate. The power of attorney for financial matters ensures someone can access your bank account and continue paying your mortgage and other bills if you are hospitalized. With the courts mostly shut down nationwide, it’s more important than ever to have the documents in place that give people the ability to assist you if you need help.
What About My Estate Plan?
If you have an estate plan, look at who you named as guardian. With travel restrictions, would the person or persons named even be able to get to your child? Are the people named in the high-risk group for Covid-19, where stepping in to care for a child who has been exposed could put your guardian in serious danger?
Should I Set Up a Temporary Guardian?
It might be wise to find at least one or two local options who would be willing to step in and care for your child, even if it means possible Covid-19 exposure. Call your attorney and see if there is a method under your state’s laws to designate an emergency/temporary guardian for your child.
What Else Can I Prepare?
Particularly if you have very young children, write out a description of their daily routine. Are there any special toys, blankets or foods that would comfort them? Is there a bedtime routine? If both parents fall ill or have to be hospitalized, you need to give the person stepping in as much information as possible to help ease this traumatic situation.
Worst-Case Scenario, What Could Happen with My Assets?
If the worst happens to you as a parent and you do not have a will, your assets could pass to your minor child outright. Do not assume your spouse will inherit everything if you don’t have a will. Many states provide that up to half of the assets pass to the children rather than to the spouse if there is no will. This outcome would not be ideal for several reasons: (1) working through the guardianship court can be onerous and expensive; (2) you don’t want your children to get the assets when they are 18 or 21 (depending on the state).
What Decisions Can I Make Now to Best Support My Children?
Make sure you update beneficiary designations on retirement plans and life insurance. If you want funds to pass to your child, you need to have a will that creates a trust for the child and the beneficiary for the retirement account should be “[name of trust] for my children under will dated [insert date]. Retirement accounts and life insurance policies are governed by contract, so if your beneficiary designation is wrong, there is little to nothing an attorney can do to fix it after the account owner’s death.
For more resources and LP's response to COVID-19, visit this webpage.