May 19th, 2020

A Call to Parents with Young Children: Who Will Take Care of Your Children if You are Hospitalized with COVID-19?

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Author: Micah A. Bonaviri

In the midst of this pandemic, many parents with young children have a heightened awareness of their childcare situation. What may have been an initial prevailing concern – who will watch the kids while I have a Zoom call? – has morphed into a much deeper concern – who will take care of my child if I pass? But it is also important to think about what happens if you simply become too sick to care for your children? With COVID-19 the time to recovery may be long and slow. In the estate planning context this last concern, albeit a valid one, is often overlooked. The solution is really quite simple – you can designate a standby guardian.

A standby guardian is a person appointed by a parent in a standalone document to take care of his or her young children temporarily if he or she becomes mentally incapacitated or physically debilitated. A standby guardian is not the same thing as a guardian appointed under a Will. A standby guardianship takes effect while a parent is still alive and by its nature it is temporary.  In contrast, a guardian appointed under a Will takes effect only at death and, for the most part, is permanent until the child(ren) attain the age of eighteen (18).

While we all hope it will be a non-issue, such that you have many loved ones who are willing to step up and help when needed, planning in advance allows YOU to have a say in who takes care of your children. It minimizes the potential for family discord and unnecessary legal fees for court involvement especially at a time when courts may be closed and court appointed guardianships may be delayed. Moreover, proper planning can give you a sense of comfort in knowing that you KNOW who will be taking care of your children. It could also protect vulnerable relatives from stepping in to care for the child(ren) while being at risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

Discussions surrounding the guardianship of minor children often tend to be emotional. Indeed, many new parents avoid getting their estate planning done because they just cannot agree on who they want to designate as guardian under their Wills. On the other hand, since a standby guardian’s role is temporary, this decision is often simpler as it is typically influenced by geography. While parents may be willing to name out-of-state relatives or family friends as guardian under a Will, parents may want to designate an individual who lives nearby as the standby guardian to ensure that the child remains close and that the child’s life is disrupted as little as possible.

Regardless of age, family structure or wealth, if you are a parent with young children it is more important than ever that you plan for disability or incapacity. An important consideration is who you would like to temporarily care for your minor children if you were unable to do so. If you would like to learn more about standby guardianships or address any other questions in regard to your personal estate planning needs, feel free to contact a member of the Stein Sperling’s Estate Planning Department.

You can find more on issues affecting businesses and individuals in our COVID-19 Resource Center