By Darlynn Morgan, Probate Attorney in Orange County
It’s “Date Night” Friday…
The one night a week when you and your spouse spend time together…talk about the week…have a nice leisurely dinner…just the two of you.
You’ve lined up a babysitter…
You left money for the pizza delivery guy and a list of contact numbers on the refrigerator door…right under the magnet you bought in Yosemite last summer…
You’ve got everything taken care of…
Except what happens to your children if the unthinkable happens and you never make it back home.
If you have minor children and you’re severely injured or worse in an accident, the police may have no choice but to place your children with Child Protective Services if they don’t have information or documentation indicating who you would want to care for your children.
Once the immediate situation has passed, your children could then be at the mercy of the “system”. There is no way the State can know who would be the best choice as a guardian for your children.
So…what do you need to do?
First, as a Probate Attorney in Orange County, I’d advise you to Put Your Guardianship Wishes in Writing!
Just telling your chosen guardian that you want them to take care of your children is not enough. What you “said” is not legally sufficient and you could be placing your children at the mercy of the foster care system for a long period of time. You need to have a plan in place, written instructions, and the proper legal documentation in order to ensure that your wishes are followed and that everyone knows what those wishes are.
Another misconception is that if you name a guardian in your Will, that’s all you have to do.
A guardianship provided for in a Will only takes effect after you die. If you become incapacitated but are still alive, it means nothing.
Proper Documentation for Guardianship
A good, solid guardianship plan will allow you to choose guardians either on a permanent or temporary basis and leave instructions for those guardians so they know exactly what you want them to do and under what circumstances.
You need to have at least these documents in place at all times if you have minor children:
1. Legal documentation naming a short term or temporary guardian in case you become incapacitated for a short period of time, or in the interim between your death and the time your permanent guardian can arrive. The best option for this guardianship is someone close by that can take immediate custody of your children and keep them out of the court system. Make sure that you talk to these individuals about your plans and that they are willing to serve as temporary guardians. Have their names at the top of a contact list that is available immediately in the event you are not able to communicate. And always make sure they have a copy of the documents naming them as temporary guardians.
2. Legal documents naming permanent guardians. The same information applies for this document as for temporary guardianship papers. Make sure you talk to the people you select and that they have copies of these documents to provide to the court.
3. Make sure you have written instructions for anyone taking care of your children so they know exactly what needs to be done if something happens to you. Make sure they know who to call. Even if you’re leaving your kids with the 16 year old kid next door to babysit on Friday night, make sure she or he knows what needs to be done if the worst happens. And always have written instructions in place for the person or persons you choose as a guardian to tell them how you want your children to be raised.
4. Always have a Medical Authorization and Power of Attorney for your children, especially if you’re sending them to Grandma’s on their own. These documents will allow the person taking care of your children in your absence to make medical decisions that could be a matter of life and death.
Really makes you think, doesn’t it?
He said/She said will not hold up in court, so if that is the only plan you’ve made for your
children if the unthinkable happens, you could be placing them at the mercy of the
foster care system without even realizing it.
If all this has made you realize you would like to get your documents in order to make sure that your children and your property are taken care of, call me, your neighborhood Probate Attorney in Orange County, to schedule your Family Wealth Planning Session today. We can identify what you need to do to plan for your family’s future and answer any questions you have about an effective estate plan. Our Family Wealth Planning Session is normally $750, but this month I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session with me at no charge. Call today and mention this article.