Even though there are now vaccines for the pandemic and the number of new cases is on the decline, becoming infected is still a very real possibility. And for parents who suffer from any debilitating illness, it can be a colossal challenge to navigate your typical parenting responsibilities, while trying to recover.
This is especially true for single parents who are the sole caregiver, with limited outside child-care options. That said, plenty of single parents have faced the same challenge and successfully recovered, while raising their young children. Fortunately, you can learn from their experiences, ask for support, and take steps to prepare for and manage your illness and your role as a parent.
Last week, in part one, we discussed some key legal issues that parents of minor children should address in order to deal with the risks of the coronavirus or any other serious medical condition that can leave you totally incapacitated or worse. Specifically, we talked about the need for naming legal guardians to care for your kids in the event you become unable to look after them. If you have not already legally documented who you would want to look after your children should you become unable to do so yourself—even for a short period of time—go to this free website right now get it done.
In addition to naming legal guardians for your kids, we also talked about the need to create a medical power of attorney and living will. These legal documents are advance directives that describe your wishes for medical treatment and end-of-life care in the event you become incapacitated and unable to express your own wishes.
Here, in part two of this series, we are going to discuss proactive measures that single parents debilitated by the coronavirus or another illness can take to improve your chances for a smooth recovery and better manage your parenting duties at the same time. Additionally, we are going to discuss additional estate planning steps for you to consider now.
If you develop symptoms that aren’t serious enough to warrant hospitalization, your main priority is recovering from your illness, but unless you can find an alternate caregiver, you’ll still need to look after your kids. As with any other challenge, planning ahead for this situation will greatly improve your chances of having a smooth recovery.
The more you prepare yourself, your home, and your children for your illness before you start feeling sick, the easier it will be to manage things when your symptoms reach their worst. The coronavirus affects people in a variety of different ways, so until you know exactly how your body will react, it’s best to prepare for a broad range of symptoms.
Identify Support. As a single parent, having backup support to care for your kids, in case you become ill or in the event of your death, is critical. While we discussed naming legal guardians for your children in our previous article, on a practical level, now is the time to consider who in your life would you be able to call on for immediate support if you need help.
As you make this list of potential immediate supporters for you and your kids, have a proactive conversation with those people now, letting them know you hope to not have to call on them, but if you do, you want to know if they would be open to being available to support you and/or your children.
If they say yes, create legal documentation giving them authority to stay with your kids and make medical decisions for your kids, in the event that you cannot make those decisions for any reason at all. This way, if something does happen, and you are too sick to care for your children, the authorities would have your written authority to leave your children in the care of the people you’ve identified, and they wouldn’t have to take your children into the care of strangers or “the system” while they figure out what to do.
In the even that you do become seriously ill, you should take the following steps to help prepare yourself and your family:
Plan to get lots of rest. Constant fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of the virus, and this can seriously affect your ability to care for your kids. Given this, you should do everything you can to keep your kids safe and occupied, so you can rest. This might mean gathering games, videos, books, music, toys, and snacks to keep them entertained. And if you have small children and are worried about them wandering off, consider using a playpen or play gates to keep them in the same room as you while you rest.
Stock up on food. You should stock up on food for both you and your kids. Your best bet are easy-to-prepare meals, such as canned soup, microwave meals, energy bars, meal-replacement shakes, and frozen pizzas. While you should be able to stock up on at least a couple of weeks worth of food beforehand, you may find that you need additional food or other essential supplies once you get sick. To prepare for this, reach out to family and friends to see if they can drop off groceries, and if that’s not an option, look into delivery services such as TaskRabbit or Instacart.
Get homework help. If your kids are attending school remotely, it might be a good idea to coordinate with a friend or tutor to be available via FaceTime or Zoom to help you kids with their schoolwork should you be laid low by your symptoms.
While most adults don’t experience severe complications from the coronavirus, there’s always the chance that you could be among those who do. Should the absolute worst happen and you end up passing away from the illness, it’s critical that your estate plan be completely up-to-date with the latest documents, beneficiaries, and administrators. Here we’ll outline some of the most important aspects of your estate plan that you should have covered to ensure your kids are properly cared for following your death.
Ensure your will distributes your assets properly: As a single parent of minor kids, you’ll likely want most, if not all, of your assets to pass to your children in the event of your death, and for this reason, you may have named them as beneficiaries in your will. However, as minors, they wouldn’t be able to access those assets until they reach the age of majority. Until they come of age, the court would appoint a guardian, which could be someone other than the person you’ve chosen, to manage their inheritance.
To avoid this, if you only have a will, you should ensure that your will establishes a testamentary trust for the benefit of your kids, with a financial guardian named by you to care for the assets, until your children reach the age you choose for them to receive their inheritance.
But for a variety of reasons we’ll cover below, using a will alone is not the ideal option for protecting and transferring your assets to your kids. Instead, you should seriously consider creating a trust to ensure your children’s inheritance passes to them in the most advantageous way possible.
Use a trust to protect and control the distribution of your children’s inheritance: Using a revocable living trust to pass your children’s inheritance to them offers a number of important advantages over a will. For one, assets included in a will must first pass through the court process known as probate before they can be transferred to the intended beneficiaries. This means that the guardian you’ve named to care for your kids would have to first go through the probate process before they could get access to any of your assets for your children’s care.
Probate can not only take months or longer to complete, but it can also be expensive and confusing. In contrast, if your assets are held in a properly drafted trust, the person you name as financial guardian could work with your lawyer for ease of management of your assets, and the people you name to care for your children could access those assets much more easily and directly as needed.
The trustee you name could be the person you’ve named as your kids’ legal guardian, or it could be a different individual, who could oversee the management of your children’s inheritance, freeing the guardian from the responsibility of caring for your kids and worrying about managing their money at the same time. Alternatively, you could make the guardian and another individual co-trustees, so there would be two individuals overseeing the assets for increased accountability.
Another advantage a trust has over a will is the level of control they offer you when it comes to distributing assets to your kids. By using a trust, you can specify when and how your kids will receive your assets once they come of age. For example, you could stipulate in the trust’s terms that the assets can only be distributed upon certain life events, such as the completion of college or purchase of a home. Or you might spread out distribution of assets over their lifetime, releasing a percentage of the assets at different ages or life stages.
In this way, you can help prevent your kids from blowing through their inheritance all at once, and offer incentives for them to demonstrate responsible behavior. Plus, as long as the assets are held in trust, they’re protected from the beneficiaries’ creditors, lawsuits, and divorce, which is something else wills don’t provide.
Furthermore, a will does not cover assets that pass directly to a beneficiary by contract, such as life insurance and retirement accounts. Given this, make sure your insurance policies and retirement accounts are directed to your trust, instead of listing your children as designated beneficiaries. Naming minors or even young adults as the beneficiaries of insurance and retirement accounts is a sure-fire way to ensure they unnecessarily get stuck in a court process, with a judge deciding how your assets are managed for your children, which you can easily avoid by designating your trust as the beneficiary of your life insurance and retirement accounts.
That said, if an asset hasn’t been properly funded to your trust, it won’t be covered, so it’s critical to work with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to ensure the trust is properly funded. We have systems in place to ensure that transferring assets to your trust and making sure they are properly owned at the time of your incapacity or death happens with ease and convenience.
Finally, in addition to the above documents, it’s essential that your estate plan also include a comprehensive inventory of your assets.
Create a Personal Resource Map: Maintaining a regularly updated inventory of all your assets is one of the most vital parts of keeping your plan current. By creating such an inventory, those named in your will and/or trust will know what you have and how to find everything should something happen to you, so none of your assets end up in our state’s Department of Unclaimed Property. This task is so important we’ve created a free online tool called a Personal Resource Map to help you get your asset inventory process started right now by yourself, without the need for a lawyer.
After getting your inventory started there, meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to incorporate your inventory into a comprehensive set of planning strategies that we will develop with you to keep your plan updated throughout your lifetime.
While the pandemic has been an extremely trying time, it seems we’re finally rounding the corner in containing the virus and getting our lives back to normal. Although it’s impossible to totally prevent you or your loved ones from getting seriously ill, by putting the type of proactive planning measures described here in place, you can significantly minimize the level of stress, suffering, and conflict that can result if you do become sick.
Whether you have yet to create these documents or need yours updated, meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, right away to ensure your family and your assets are as well-protected as possible. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.
Proper estate planning can keep your family out of conflict, out of court, and out of the public eye. If you’re ready to create a comprehensive estate plan, contact us to schedule your Family Wealth Planning Session. Even if you already have a plan in place, we will review it and help you bring it up to date to avoid heartache for your family. Schedule online today.