The pandemic is causing us to consider a lot of things that we may not have before, even if maybe we should have.
It brings to mind something a colleague of mine shared a while back. One unremarkable weekend, she left her small children with a babysitter and headed out to enjoy dinner at a restaurant with her husband. But as she sat there, a thought crept into her head that she couldn’t let go.
What would happen to her kids, she thought, if she and her husband got into a car accident on the way home? If you have talked with me for any length of time, I have probably shared this story with you. It was a conversation with this particular colleague that changed my entire perspective on my estate planning practice. It also made me feel I had failed to truly plan for my own kids.
And even though my colleague is an estate planning lawyer herself, and she had a will at home naming guardians for her kids (as did I), she didn’t have a definite and clear answer that provided the comfort she wanted. Her will was in a vault, and her named legal guardians lived thousands of miles away. It was that thought that spurred her to take action, not only for her own family, but to create tools and resources for others as well. She even wrote a best-selling book on the subject. Not going to lie; wish I had thought of that!
If you’d like to read the book she wrote as a result of her own discoveries, it’s called “Wear Clean Underwear” and you can get a copy for free on the website in the Freebies section here:
One thing you’ll discover in the book is that even naming a legal guardian in your will is often not enough to keep your kids out of the care of strangers, or someone you wouldn’t want, if something happens to you. As lawyers, we know that your will is only effective if you die. What happens if you are only temporarily injured or ill but cannot care for your children? Well, if there is not another available parent or biological adult living in the household, then child protective services is often involved. Why is this not common knowledge? Why is this not addressed by more estate planning lawyers?? I am working to change that!
Chances of COVID-19 Infection in the Family
If you are young and healthy, it might be hard to imagine that you won’t be there to care for your kids. But if the COVID-19 pandemic is showing us anything, it’s that even a healthy person can contract a serious illness that leaves them incapacitated and unable to care for their children.
If there is more than one adult in the house, that may alleviate some of your worry. While naming legal guardians for your kids may feel especially urgent for a single parent, parents with partners aren’t off the hook. You should take precautions though, especially since there are high infection rates among people who live in the same household.
A professor at the University of Florida has found a more than 19% chance that someone else in the household of a person infected with COVID-19 will also contract the disease. Researchers estimate the average incubation time is about four days and could be infectious for up to two weeks. That means it’s not outside the realm of possibility that you and your partner could both contract the illness, possibly at the same time. These facts are not here to scare you, but to empower you. While I too often feel helpless against such statistics, I have to remind myself to take action where I can, when I can.
An Easy Way to Find Guardians for Your Children
Even if you never contract COVID-19, you are of course still human, and vulnerable to accidents and other dangers that could separate you from your kids—either temporarily or permanently. I want you to know there are simple ways to plan for this as part of your estate plan. When I create a Guardian Guide for a client, we legally document the authorized temporary emergency contacts. We start with friends, neighbors, or family that would be most able to arrive quickly and would be able to take care of the children for any length of time. This may be a few hours, to a few days or weeks, until family or the chosen long-term guardians can make further arrangements.
And, if you are having a difficult time deciding who to name as legal guardians for your children, I can even help you make the right decisions.
Officially answering the question of who will care for your kids if you can’t—even for a short time—is one of the best things you can do right now. It is a real, concrete way you can protect your kids during this scary period of time. If you want to know more about choices to make for your kids through estate planning, you can check out one of my upcoming free workshops or watch one of my recent pre-recorded workshop webinars on demand.