Parents Both Sick?
Protect Your Children with a Designation of a Standby Guardian: Avoid Uncertainty and Foster Care
By: Constantina Koulosousas, Esq.
We’ve all been kept up at night by the horrendous news about COVID19. This news is especially upsetting when it highlights spouses or members of the same immediate family falling ill with COVID19 at the same time, which, sadly, given the highly contagious nature of the disease, is a common scenario. In these uncertain times, it is important to prepare for the unthinkable – who would take care of my kids if me and my partner both get sick?
New Jersey allows parents to name a “temporary” or “standby guardian” for their minor (or incapacitated adult) children for short periods of time, in several different ways. In normal times, this is commonly used when parents are traveling or otherwise unavailable to make decisions for their children. For example, if grandma is watching the children for a long weekend and Suzy breaks her arm on Grandma’s watch, the temporary guardian has the authority to consent to medical treatment for the broken arm. In COVID19 times, the designation works in the same way but is even more important given the real risk confronting parents, whether single, married, or separated. In fact, this designation is so important that the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) issued guidance encouraging all parents to designate a standby guardian for their minor (or adult incapacitated) children.
So, what happens if the parents are both sick and no standby guardian has been named? There is a very real risk your child will be placed in foster care temporarily. DCP cautions:
“In the event a child is without a caregiver due to a parent’s illness or incapacitation, DCF’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) may be called to take custody. The Division works to identify appropriate and willing family, friends or neighbors that can provide short-term guardianship, but these efforts can take time and a child could be placed in foster care while details and arrangements are made.”
Foster care is obviously undesirable for many reasons, the chief among those being trauma to the child and loss of control over the living environment/decision makers for your children.
It is important to have an emergency plan. Just as you would stock up on food and other necessities, it is important to address your family plan, including designating a standby guardian and establishing or updating your Estate Plan. We counsel our Estate Planning clients to prepare an “emergency folder” with all their important information in one place to facilitate easy access by their designated agents. DCF echoes these sentiments by encouraging families to have a COVID-19 Kit, including “important documents, and a “go” bag with any essentials children may need during their time with a designated caregiver.” If your child has special medical or other needs, it is important to include specific instructions.
image from DCF website
You can designate a Standby Guardian by executing a Power of Attorney or another form appointing an appropriate, responsible adult as a temporary guardian for your minor (or incapacitated) children. You can amend or revoke this appointment at any time. We can work with you to prepare, sign and notarize this document safely, and without in-person contact, using virtual technology. We are ready to guide you and your family in this process. Together, we will make it through.