No parent wants to think about unexpectedly passing away and leaving their children alone. Unfortunately, this is something that must be planned for in case the worst were to happen. A comprehensive estate plan is a crucial tool that, in part, gives someone you trust the legal power over your minor children in case you were to unexpectedly pass away or be suddenly unavailable.
Your estate planning should be a tool you use and discuss now. A common misconception is that this planning should only be applied when you pass on. This is not true. Emergency situations, like an accident or medical emergency, may happen that leave you unable to make decisions but very much alive. Your plan should be designed to be able to be used as a guide and provide authority for decisions that need to be made by your child’s guardian, school and teachers no matter the situation. Let us share three key questions and answers of how you can be using this planning tool to protect yourself and your children right now.
1. How do you authorize car pickup from school?
Unfortunately, many parents believe filling out the emergency card with contact information is sufficient for their kids and estate planning. While this is a first step, it only gives permission for a certain “emergency contact” to pick up a child if the parents are unavailable. We need to ask the more important questions of what happens to the car pick up authorization in them ore long-term situation if you were to pass away or become incapacitated?
In this instance, you should consider nominating both temporary or permanent guardians in legal documents in addition to listing them on the school emergency card. You also want to be sure to be sure that those that you name as guardians know the game plan. Have conversations with them about your planning and make sure they have access to the guardianship nomination documents they will need.
Need help choosing guardians? Click here for our “7 Must Do’s When Naming Guardians for Your Kids.”
2. Should I give out my legal documents?
Making sure the school is knowledgeable about certain aspects of your estate plan can allow for a smoother pickup situation in case of an emergency. Naturally, for privacy purposes you will likely not want to provide your entire plan to the school. However, how will the school know the identity of the permanent legal guardians you have chosen or that they have vested legal authority to care and make decisions for your children?
Also for consideration is whether you should you give copies of your estate plan to those you have named as guardians or only tell them of the role and provide your attorney’s name? How will they access important legal documents to care for and make decisions for our kids in an emergency? A crisis is already confusing and emotionally-laden, and is the least optimal time to be searching for important documents.
In response to these questions, we developed the Snyder Law Family Protection Plan where that helps parents create a customized action plan. This involves helping them select the best guardians and ensuring their guardians know who we are as a resource in case something happens. Most importantly, we give our clients special Emergency Cards that give first responders, guardians, their healthcare agents, and whomever else they want to have 24/7 access to the important legal documents needed to ensure their plan takes action.
3. Are there special steps we should take as a split household?
If your family is a split household, be sure to speak with your parenting partner on who you both are placing as the legal guardian if one of you should pass away. When you are not married, if one of you were to unexpectedly pass away, you do not want to cause further issues during an already stressful time due to custody issues. Speak with your estate planning attorney and your parenting partner now about how to navigate your relationship with the school and potential, future scenarios.
Remember also that your estate planning does so more than providing a mechanism for guardianship of your children. Your plan creates the framework for your legacy for your kids and estate planning. It can contain your wishes for your children, your beliefs, and the family history you want to share with those you love most.
Do not wait to have the guardianship for your minor child planned out well in advance of any potential issues. Speak with your child’s school, your spouse or parenting partner as well as your estate planning attorney today.
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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He is all about family and has a passion for educating his community about trust and estate planning, veterans issues, and how to protect what matters most.