Even though there are now vaccines for the CORONA virus and the number of new cases is on the decline, becoming infected is still a very real possibility. For parents who suffer from any debilitating illness, it can be a challenge to navigate your parenting responsibilities while trying to recover.
This is especially true for single parents with limited outside child-care options. However, 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 managing 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 to deal with the risks of the coronavirus or any other serious medical condition that can leave you incapacitated. Specifically, we talked about the need for naming legal guardians to care for your kids. 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, schedule a meeting with us as soon as possible to get it done.
In addition, 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.
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 while doing so. Additionally, we are going to discuss additional Wills and Trusts planning steps for you to also consider.
Practical Tips For Recovering From The Coronavirus
If you develop symptoms that aren’t serious enough to warrant hospitalization, your main priority is recovering from your illness. However, unless you can find an alternate caregiver, you’ll still need to look after your kids. Planning 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, the easier it will be to manage things when your symptoms reach their worst. The coronavirus affects people in a variety of different ways. Therefore, 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 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 in caring for your children.
As you make this list of potential immediate supporters for you and your kids, have a proactive conversation with those people now. In the conversation let 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 in caring for your minor 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. 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. This would mean that the authorities wouldn’t have to take your children into the care of strangers or “the system” while they figure out what to do.
In the event that you do become seriously ill, you should take the following steps to prepare yourself and your family:
Plan to get lots of rest. Constant fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of the virus. This can seriously affect your ability to care for your children. Given this, you should do everything you can to keep your children occupied so that you can rest. This might mean gathering items and food to keep them entertained and feed. If you have small children and are worried about them wandering off, consider using a playpen or baby gates to keep them in the same room as you while you rest.
Stock up on food. You should stock up on food for yourself and your kids. Your best bet are easy-to-prepare meals. While you should be able to stock up on at least a couple of week’s worth of food, 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. If that’s not an option, look into delivery services.
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 your kids with their schoolwork.
Preparing for the Worst-Case Scenario
While most adults don’t experience severe complications from the coronavirus, there’s a chance that you could be among those who do. Should the absolute worst happen and you end up passing away, your Will and Trust must be completely up-to-date. Here we’ll outline some of the most important aspects of your Will and Trust that you should have covered to ensure your kids are properly cared for in the event of your death.
Ensure your will distributes your assets properly: As a single parent of minor children, you’ll likely want your assets to pass to your children in the event of your death. For this reason, you may have named them as beneficiaries in your will. However, if they are 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 to manage their inheritance.
To avoid this, you should ensure that your will establishes a testamentary trust for the benefit of your children, with a financial guardian named by you to care for the assets until they reach the age you choose for them to receive their inheritance.
But, using a will alone is not the ideal option for protecting and transferring your assets to your children. Instead, you should 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 several advantages over a will.
First, 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 children would have to first go through the probate process before they could get access to any of your assets for their care. Probate can take months to complete. It can also be expensive and confusing.
In contrast, if your assets are held in a trust, the person you name as financial guardian could work with your lawyer for ease of management of your assets. Additionally, 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. It could also be a different individual, who could oversee the management of your children’s inheritance. This would free 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. This would allow for increased accountability.
Another advantage a trust has over a will is the level of control they provide you when it comes to distributing assets to your children. By using a trust, you can specify when and how your kids will receive your assets. For example, you could stipulate in the trust that the assets can only be distributed upon certain life events, such as the completion of college.
You can also spread out the distribution of assets over their lifetime, releasing a percentage of the assets at different ages. In this way, you can help prevent your kids from blowing through their inheritance all at once.
Additionally, as long as the assets are held in trust, they’re protected from the beneficiaries’ creditors, lawsuits, and divorce, which is something wills don’t provide.
Furthermore, a will does not cover assets that pass directly to a beneficiary, such as life insurance and retirement accounts. Given this, make sure your insurance policies and retirement accounts are directed to your trust as the designated beneficiaries. Naming minors or even young adults as the beneficiaries of insurance and retirement accounts ensures they unnecessarily get stuck in a court process, with a judge deciding how your assets are managed for your children. This 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. Therefore, 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.
Finally, in addition to the above-mentioned documents, it’s essential that your Will and Trust also includes a comprehensive inventory of your assets.
Create a Personal Resource Map: Maintaining a regularly updated inventory of all your assets is a vital part 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. This allows for none of your assets to 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.
Minimize Your Risk With Planning
While the pandemic has been an extremely trying time, it seems we’re finally rounding the corner in containing the virus and getting back to normal. Although it’s impossible to prevent you or your loved ones from getting seriously ill, by putting the type of proactive planning measures described above 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®, to ensure your family and your assets are well-protected. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.
This article is a service of Levi L. Alexander, Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents. We help to ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. This is why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™. During this session, you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session for free.