As a Marietta estate planning lawyer, I know one of the most important decisions a parent can make is determining who will care for their kids if something tragic happened to them. I also know it’s very easy for parents to get stuck during this critical decision making process. Do you choose this person for financial reasons? Religion? A certain parenting philosophy? Do you care if the couple you chose stays married or eventually gets a divorce? Then what?
While it’s great to put a lot of thought into who you would want to raise your kids, indecision and ultimately inaction is a very dangerous place to be, especially with young children at home. It’s important to remember that SOMEONE will determine what happens to your kids….so it might as well be you! The alternative is a judge who knows nothing about you, your family or what truly is in the best interest of your children.
So to avoid having a judge make life-changing decisions on your child’s behalf, I would like to share four easy steps that will help you finally take action and choose the right guardians for your kids:
1. Sit down and brainstorm all the people who could possibly raise your kids if you were killed or incapacitated in an accident. Don’t limit your choices to family either. Think outside the box and write down everyone who even remotely fits the bill.
2. Determine who you would NEVER want to raise your kids in your absence. You’ll need to tell the court who you DON’T want raising your kids so they can protect your family should that named individual (s) contest your wishes and seek custody of your kids following your death or incapacity. (This can be kept private and only revealed if the need arises)
3. Weigh your values. Make another column and write down what is important to you and/or your spouse. Do you value education? Religious or spiritual training? The ability to live in a certain community? Being raised in a two-parent family? Whatever your values may be, write them down, prioritize them and eventually rank the top three.
4. Match your top choices to your top values. This will give you a clear picture of who you can trust to raise your children with the values you hold near and dear to your heart.
And of course, the last (and arguably the most important step) is to legally document your choice of guardians so there’s no question as to who you want to raise your kids if something happens to you!
To ensure you legally get the documentation you need for naming guardians for your kids—or if you’d further like to create a comprehensive estate plan that will ensure your children, assets and wishes are protected something the unexpected happen to you, please give me, your friendly neighborhood Marietta estate planning lawyer a call at 770.425.6060 to schedule a no-charge Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session (normally $750 value) with the mention of this article.
All parents should have a plan in place should an emergency strike during should hours, according to Marietta ProtectMyKidsPlan™ attorney, Steve Worrall. Preparations includes naming short-term guardians, listing the right people on school emergency cards and leaving detailed instructions with babysitters to avoid involvement with social services.
Marietta, GA – “Do you think a school emergency card is enough to protect your kids if something happens to you during school hours?” asks attorney Steve Worrall to a crowd of parents recently attending his popular ProtectMyKidsPlan™ Seminar in Marietta.
The majority of the room raise their hand yes. A few parents are undecided. Yet from a legal standpoint, all of them are wrong.
“Contrary to popular belief, a school emergency card will not protect your children from spending time in the hands of social services if something tragic happens to you, “says Worrall. “The emergency card only gives named contacts permission to pick your kid up if they are sick, not take short-term custody of them if one or both parents are killed or incapacitated in an accident,” he adds.
For this reason, experts such Worrall recommend parents create an emergency plan prior to going to back to school so there is no confusion or legal headaches should tragedy strike. According to Worrall, this plan can be created in 3 easy steps:
- Legally name short-term guardians for your kids– Short-term guardians are the people who have legal permission to care for your child until the surviving parent or long-term guardian can arrive. This should ultimately be someone who lives close by and one who will comfort your children in an emergency.
- Make sure your short-term guardians match those named in the school emergency card– In addition to listing friends and neighbors who can pick your child up from school if he or she gets sick, it’s equally important to list the full contact information of your short-term guardians for true emergencies. Without this information, your children would be placed temporarily in the custody of social services until the surviving parent or legal guardian can arrive.
- Make sure the babysitter knows what to do if you don’t return home– It’s extremely important that parents give their a.m. or p.m. babysitters detailed instructions on what to do and who to call if they don’t return home. In most cases, a babysitter will panic and turn to the police for help, again opening the door for social services to temporarily take custody of your kids until a long-term care provider can arrive.
“Creating a back-to-school emergency plan is so easy— and something that will greatly pay off if a parent is injured or killed during school hours,” Worrall says. “The first few hours after an emergency are the most painful for a child, so it’s important for parents to make sure their kids spend that time with people they love and trust, rather than in the arms of the state,” he adds.
For more information on Cobb County family law and family estate planning attorney, Steve Worrall, please visit call 770-425-6060 or fill out our contact form. For more information about or to attend a ProtectMyKidsPlan™ seminar, sign up here.
Estate planning lawyers in Cobb County work daily with families who want to use their wills and trusts to set up guardianships for their minor children. They go through extensive thought, planning, and soul-searching to make just the right choice in who will take over raising their children should they become unable to do so. It rarely occurs to parents that there is a real need to set up temporary guardianships at various times, often for really simple, but overlooked, reasons.
For example, many parents leave their children with a trusted friend or family member when going on a business trip or vacation or even when the parent must spend time in the hospital or recovery. There are also cases where a child leaves the home to live with a family member or friend for various reasons.
In these circumstances, it makes sense to give that person the legal ability to do things such as seek medical care, consent to school field trips, etc. If you are planning to leave your children in someone else’s care for much time, then filling out and signing a temporary power of attorney can make things much smoother should there be any question while you’re gone. For example, the temporary guardian could take your child to the doctor without having to have you make multiple phone calls to attempt to give your consent.
One area in which you might want to get your Cobb County guardianship lawyer involved is when it comes to emergency situations. It is possible to assign a temporary guardian in situations where an emergency has arisen. A useful example is if you happen to be injured and hospitalized while your children are in the care of a babysitter. When you don’t arrive home, the sitter will generally call the police who will have to get protective services involved because there is no legal documentation allowing the children to stay with the sitter. To avoid this, you can create a temporary guardianship document that allows your children to be with someone you trust until you are able to return to them or until their more long-term guardians can take over.
The rights you choose to delegate to the temporary guardian can vary, and it’s a good idea to work with a Cobb County attorney to ensure that you’re following the letter of the law. In most cases, you can choose to give the temporary guardian only specific rights or to delegate all of the rights of a parent to the adult in question, with only a few exceptions. In addition to signatures of involved parties, you will likely need to have the document notarized. Talk to your Cobb County attorney for the specifics on how to get started.
Guardianship is a topic we cover very extensively in our blog articles and in our ProtectMyKids Planning™ seminars. Today we want to share some practical considerations with you–things you should consider before naming one or more people to serve as guardians for your children. The intent is to encourage you to engage in proactive planning, and also to take some pressure off of you. The latter comes from realizing that until you actually die, your planning is quite flexible and can be changed to meet your wishes.
Not Permanent Until It’s Permanent
Naming one or more people to serve as a guardian for your children in the event of your death or incapacity might seem very permanent, but again, it’s not. You can change the named guardians in your plan at will . . . right up until the time you pass away or become incapacitated. For that reason, it’s not enough that you set up a great plan initially. You must also review that plan and the continuing suitability of the people you’ve chosen. As circumstances change and people evolve, so might your choices.
That’s where our law firm is unique. We have options available whereby we conduct an annual review of your plan each year just to make sure that our planning is still appropriate. We want you to sleep well at night, but we also want your children to receive the best care possible if something happens to you. It’s very important.
Really, Really Know The Appointees
Make sure you know the person or people you’re appointing very well. That means you need to spend a lot of time with them. Ideally, choose someone who is already a parent. That way you can observe and get comfortable with their parenting style. It’s also great if your children feel close to, and a sense of support from, the person you’re going to choose. You need to know and feel comfortable with things like religious beliefs, habits, where the person lives (so your children aren’t uprooted if that’s important to you), and how equipped the person is to help your children through a very difficult time.
Does the person you’re considering have a home that is big enough to include your children? How about his or her relative health and financial stability, does that meet your standards? Financial issues can be overcome with additional planning on your part, which might include something like a term life insurance policy. But the real question is whether the person you’re appointing manages money well enough to make the inheritance last.
You do have the option to name two guardians for your children, because it just so happens that raising children and managing money requires two different skill sets! One guardian would be the caretaker (“Guardian of the Person”), and the other would manage the money (“Guardian of the Estate”). If you consider this option, make sure the two guardians get along well, and make sure that they’re on the same page with respect to your wishes and what you believe to be in the best interest of your children.
DO NOT WAIT
It’s very important that you act right away to name a guardian for your children. Remember, until you die, the decision can be “undone,” but if you die without having named a guardian, then the fate of your children will be left to the discretion of a total stranger . . . a judge. You have the ability to take control right now, and your words and planning will have the effect of law. In other words, a less than perfect choice is better than no choice at all.
If you would like to discuss setting up a guardianship plan, please call our offices and schedule a time to speak with an attorney. If you mention this article by name and say that you’re interested in a ProtectMyKids Plan™, we will meet with you absolutely free of charge.