As the COVID-19 pandemic brings the world to a standstill, many families are dealing with a great deal of anxiety, according to several news reports.
There are parents who have both become infected and face major challenges taking care of their children. There are stories of single parents who have died from the virus, leaving their children helpless.
Even as we disinfect our groceries and venture out with gloves and masks, exposure to the coronavirus remains a threat for some families, putting dependents, especially vulnerable children at risk.
There are, however, some legal steps one can take to put protections in place for children and make life a little simpler.
Here are some questions to consider.
Should I ensure that another person can access funds on my behalf?
In the event that you get quite sick or hospitalized, someone needs to continue taking care of your dependents, and also, of your financial affairs if you are not able to do so yourself.
At the very least, your rent/mortgage, utilities, etc., would need to be paid, your house would need at least some degree of looking after and your children would need to be provided for.
There are multiple ways to do this.
- One option is to ensure that there are multiple signatories on your bank accounts, investments accounts, safety deposit boxes etc., who can sign individually (not jointly). You need not do this with every account, but should try and ensure that somebody has access to enough money to take care of your affairs for a period of a month or two as needed.
- Another option is to provide a power of attorney to someone you trust. This could be a wide-ranging power of attorney or could be limited to certain transactions that would allow the person to conduct some of your financial affairs.
Should I ensure that someone can look after my children?
If possible, it would be worth talking to someone to ensure that they take care of your children’s or other dependents’ needs if you are unable to do so. It may even be possible to formally appoint guardians who can function as the children’s legal guardians (standby guardianship), in the event that you are incapacitated. This could empower them to make medical and legal decisions on behalf of your children if needed.
Should I appoint a Medical Proxy?
A medical proxy specifies who is in charge of medical care and decision making should the patient be incapable of making decision and also provides guidance on the patient’s care preferences, such as the extent to which life support can be used. This enables you to have some degree of control over your medical care, in case you are incapacitated. It also allows the person who is the medical proxy access to your health care information, allowing them to ask questions and choose between various treatment options.
Should I get insurance?
It’s a good idea to ensure that your life insurance, AD&D insurance, short-term disability insurance and long-term disability insurance are all active and fully paid for. Should something go wrong, these would ensure that you and your family have some financial support.
Should I prepare a will?
A will would provide for a division of assets upon passing. If you have minor children, it is critical to appoint guardians who would take care of the children in your absence, should something go terribly wrong. Similarly, a will would allow you to appoint a trustee to manage your children’s assets. Guardianship is separate from taking care of the children’s assets. Both functions can be performed by the same person or by different people. Ideally, both parents should appoint the same guardians, although they can appoint separate custodians for managing the children’s assets.
Although it is possible to find templates for all of these documents online, I strongly recommend consulting a lawyer who specializes in wills, trusts and estate planning. Lawyers are by and large able to work remotely, and several states have enacted laws that allow for video-based notarization – making it relatively easy to respect social distancing requirements while taking care of your legal needs.
This article is intended for informational purposes only. I strongly recommend consulting an attorney who specializes in wills, trusts and estate planning, who would be able to assist with specific advice specifically suited to your circumstances.
Svati Kania Shashank is a lawyer practicing in New York for over 20 years.
Edited by India Currents Contributing Editor, Meera Kymal