Tag Archives: life insurance

Legal Tips to Protect Your Kids If You Get Sick

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

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Losing Parents: When Children Need Legal Protections

As parents, our biggest responsibility is to support and care for our children, but we don’t always think about planning for a future where a child is left without both parents. It’s a distressing topic, but one that’s important to consider and plan for because we cannot assume that family will automatically be able to take care of our children.  

I strongly recommend consulting an attorney who specializes in wills, trusts and estate planning for specific advice.  Norms and laws about insurance and guardianship differ greatly between different places, and also change periodically. Here are some questions to think about.

Should I get Life Insurance?

  • Life insurance is an effective way to ensure that your child is provided for financially in the event of one or both parents passing away.  
  • Consider whether the beneficiary should be the child (or children) directly or the other parent (with the children being secondary beneficiaries).  
  • Consult a lawyer who specializes in wills, trusts and estate planning, for advice about possibly creating a trust to look after the children’s interests and manage tax implications efficiently. 
  • Specific complications can arise if the parents are separated so seek guidance from an attorney on what steps to follow.

Should I Appoint Guardians and Custodians?

  • It is critical to appoint guardians to care for minor children in your absence.  
  • Guardianship and overseeing children’s assets are separate functions that can be performed by the same person or by different people.  
  • You can appoint guardians in your wills or through separate legal documentation. Ideally, both parents should appoint the same guardians. It’s a good idea to also name individuals who could serve as guardians if their appointed guardians cannot.  
  • Parents can appoint separate custodians for managing children’s assets, but It’s important that custodians and guardians work efficiently together. 

What can I do if my child’s guardian lives abroad?

  • It’s simpler to appoint someone locally; if the guardian lives far away or is based abroad, It could delay them getting custody of the child; in some situations, the child may be sent temporarily into a government-run program.  
  • If the guardian is abroad, plan where the children should go immediately until their international guardian can take over. 
  • With an international guardianship, consider whether  your child will be comfortable living and studying in a different country- an issue the US courts may examine.
Appoint a guardian your child trusts

What will a  Guardian do?

  • Choose guardians who would provide an environment and upbringing that would be consistent with what you envision for your child. 
  • Consider someone who is familiar  to the child and who can provide stability and emotional support as they adjust to trauma and change. 

Should I Create a Will?

  • Create a will which specifies who would manage the child’s assets in your absence. Consider whether the person is likely to have a conflict of interest and whether they can be fully trusted to prioritize your child’s welfare.
  • The will should consider scenarios where one or both parents are no longer alive. Ideally, both parents’ wills should be such that the management of the children’s assets is consistent and smooth.  

Should I Create A Trust?

  • While a will can ensure the inheritance directly goes to the child, a parent may also want to consider whether the child gets control over the inheritance on attaining majority, or, whether you want another person to manage their assets for a longer period.  
  • Some parents give children a percentage of their inheritance when they attain certain age-based landmarks (for example, 50% at age 30 and 50% at age 35).  
  • It may be advisable to create some sort of trust for the  child’s benefit – from the perspective of tax implications or better management of funds. 
  • If you have assets in India, carefully consider the ability of the person appointed to manage the child’s assets to handle legal and practical issues in India. You may wish to create a different structure for managing your assets abroad.

This article is intended for informational purposes only. Individual circumstances differ for everyone. It is always advisable to get professional 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

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