How To Prevent My Child from Becoming a Ward of the Court

How To Prevent My Child from Becoming a Ward of the Court

If something happens to you and you’re unable to care for your children, the court system may step in. Making a child a ward of the court is only a last resort. If you’ve already made other arrangements, the court system would prefer to honor those arrangements as long as they account for your children’s best interests.

What is a Ward of the Court?

A ward of the court is a child who is under the care of the court system. The court monitors the child’s education, healthcare, finances, and other needs. The court may appoint a guardian for the child, or the child may be placed into foster care.

When Can a Child Become a Ward of the Court?

A child can become a ward of the court when their parents are unable to care for them. This can happen involuntarily in cases of abuse or neglect. In an estate planning context, it may be due to the death of the parents or an incapacitating illness or injury.

This process isn’t ideal for the children or their families, so it’s only used as a backup plan. If there are other arrangements, such as a nominated guardian who has the financial ability to care for the child, the court would rather entrust the care of the child to that person under the court’s supervision rather than having the state take responsibility for the child.

What Happens if Something Happens to the Parents?

If a child’s parents suffer a sudden accident or injury, a number of legal processes will begin. If the parents never return to pick up their children at school or some other location, the adults there will try to reach the emergency contacts the parents previously provided. If they can’t reach any family members or friends to take temporary care of the child, they may notify police or child protective services.

While the preferred option is to get the children with someone they know as quickly as possible, that is only a temporary solution. Without prior planning by the parents, they won’t have the legal authority to make important decisions for the children or even to maintain custody without a separate court process.

If there is no one willing or able to take care of the children, they may be brought to a shelter or placed into foster care.

Can a Parent Stop a Child from Becoming a Ward of the Court?

If you’re charged with abuse or neglect, you have due process rights to protect your parental rights and can work with an attorney who practices in that area to maintain custody. If you die or become incapacitated, it’s simply impossible to go to court and fight for your children. Since it’s this latter scenario that you’re trying to prevent through estate planning, the only way to prevent your child from becoming a ward of the court is to plan ahead.

How to Decide Who Takes Care of Your Children

If you want to decide who takes care of your children instead of having a court do it, there are a few steps you need to take.

Update Your Emergency Contacts

Schools, daycares, and anyone else who takes care of your children for the day will usually ask for a list of people who are authorized to pick up your children. This should include who should pick them up in an emergency when you can’t be reached. Your children should also know the name and phone number of a relative or close friend to call in an emergency.

Keep in mind this is just a temporary arrangement. Even if your selected person is willing to care for your children indefinitely, they won’t have legal authority to make decisions for them at the doctor, school, bank, or other important places.

Nominate a Guardian

A more permanent solution is to nominate a guardian. A guardian takes full care of your children with the same authority of a parent. While the court technically selects the guardian, it will honor a parent’s wishes as long as the nominated guardian is suitable. If your chosen guardian lives out of state, you may wish to also nominate a local temporary or backup guardian until the permanent guardian can arrive or your family can arrange for the children to move to the permanent guardian.

Create a Power of Attorney

You can also create a power of attorney for your children. This is similar to a guardianship in that you can grant your selected agent full authority to do anything you could, but it’s more temporary. A power of attorney can help in cases of temporary illness or if something happens to one parent while the other is traveling away from home.

Appoint a Conservator

A conservator is similar to a guardian but only handles financial affairs while another guardian handles everything else. Some parents worry about a guardian misusing assets the parents left for their children’s benefit. While courts do monitor guardians, some financial abuses can go unnoticed by the court if another family member isn’t aware to bring it to the court’s attention. Appointing a separate conservator provides a more direct form of oversight.

How to Provide for Your Children Financially

When courts are reviewing who will care for children, they consider financial means. A family member who you would like to be the guardian may not have the income or assets needed to raise your children. While the guardian generally doesn’t legally have personal liability for childcare expenses, your children do need some source of money in order to not become wards of the court. You have several options to achieve this.

Life Insurance

Life insurance is one of the easiest ways to provide for your children. You can buy a policy that covers your future earnings or what you would have spent to raise them including college costs. You can name your children as beneficiaries, or have the money go into a trust on their behalf.

Will

You can also use your will to leave money to your children. Creating a will is a simple step, but it isn’t without pitfalls. A will has to go through probate, and if you have debts, your creditors may be entitled to repayment before your heirs receive anything. A will also provides the lowest degree of control over how the money you leave is spent.

Trust

A trust with your children as the beneficiary holds assets to your benefit during your life and then automatically transfers them to your children upon your death. Some of the major benefits of using a trust are that you can set it up to hold money until your children reach a certain age or to be used for a specific purpose.

Durable Financial Power of Attorney

You should also prepare for a long-term illness or other incapacitation. Life insurance, wills, and trusts only work after death. If you are still alive, your family will need the legal authority to access your funds to use for your children.

A durable power of attorney kicks in on a triggering event you specify such as your hospitalization. You can give your power of attorney access to your checking account, or you can maintain a separate savings account with funds for your children in case of an emergency. To the extent you have funds available, this guarantees money will be available for your children regardless of your family’s willingness or ability to cover their expenses.

What Do You to With Your Plan?

Once you have a plan in place, make sure the right people know about it. Keep copies of everything with your other important documents, and tell your family where to find them. Anyone you select to care for your children should have their own copies to present to legal authorities if needed.

In addition, give age-appropriate information to your children. This can be as simple as telling a toddler to call grandma if you don’t answer or telling an older child their uncle will take care of them if anything ever happens to you. After a certain age, this can actually be comforting to children who may have seen movies about orphans and have their own worries about becoming wards of the court.

Get Help from an Attorney

Preventing your child from becoming a ward of the court requires proactive planning. To make sure you don’t miss anything and everything will work as you expect, talk to an estate planning attorney at Lilac City Law. Contact us now to schedule a consultation.

Contact

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Getting Ready for Spring Break and More with a Family Protection Plan

What If...Getting Ready for Spring Break and More!

Spring break is coming up fast! And it truly is an exciting time of year, filled with both the promise of spring and brief glimpses of Summer. With the brief pre-summer respite, families across America are going to be planning short trips, family outings, and the occasional “stay-cation!”

Whether your plans for spring break include trips to exotic locations, the mall, or simply spring cleaning, this is the perfect time of year to start thinking about what-ifs and how-would-I’s?

What If…Someone Got Hurt On Vacation?

What if on that vacation your loved one were to get hurt? How would you help them, advocate for them, get them home?

The challenges presented by a loved one who is away from home can be exceedingly difficult to work through without prior contingency & family protection planning.  In our article, What a New College Student Can Teach Us About Family Protection Planning, we covered this exact scenario.  Well, sort of.  We assumed the person who got hurt was a young college student away from home.  But the point of the vignette remains the same.   Accessing and advocating for the care of a loved one who is not a minor and is separated from you, is very difficult due to existing privacy laws and policies.

Here’s an excerpt from that article:

“In the midst of your adult child’s medical emergency, they (doctors) are unable to provide authorization to have you get pertinent details of the situation, talk to the doctor, and potentially make very important decisions.  You are now as much in the dark on the whole situation as a stranger, but of course, you’re not a stranger.  Your his or her parent!   This isn’t just a cautionary tale either…  This happens every day.  So, how can you prevent this?!”

What If…Someone Back Home Got Hurt?

What if my husband and I went on a brief overnight vacation and something were to happen to my kids back at home? How would I guarantee they did not end up more traumatized by our absence? Who would look after them?

This is a nightmare scenario.  You finally get some respite time with your hubby, and because you have a young family, you are just going to be gone for a night.  A short overnight trip to a private cabin.  Just far enough from home to let your hair down and reconnect with your best friend and partner.

Unbeknownst to you, something happens to your kids’ caretaker.  The police are on the scene, paramedics rushing about, and no-one knows what is supposed to be happening with the children.  The neighbor, a good friend of yours, and the person you kinda always let know as a “backup plan” when you are leaving tries to let the police know that they can watch them until their parents return, but there’s no documentation.  The police have no idea if the neighbor is your best friend or an opportunist predator.  They cannot take a risk, and your kids are retained by the police until they can talk to a social worker and get them into an emergency shelter – either with someone they do not know or maybe even in a hotel or office building with another stranger until you return home and have to sort things out.

When you get home, what are you going to do?  Could an ounce of planning have prevented the trauma your family endured tonight?

What If…You Never Made It Home?

What if I were to get into a car accident today? Who would be able to speak for me and make my wishes known? How would I make sure a doctor or even worse, a judge, I do not know is not going to be making decisions whether or not to treat me if I were incapacitated?

Car accidents kill and critically injure tens of thousands of Americans per year.  How many of them are parents?  How many are single parents?  It happens, that is what we all need to remember.  While it probably will not happen to you, it can!  Do you have a plan to advocate for your wishes if you were to become incapacitated?

In situations like this you have to consider, do you want to be resuscitated if your injury might lead to a prolonged vegetative state?  Do you want someone else to make that decision?  OR, do you want to make sure someone, in particular, is NOT in a place to make that decision on your behalf?  These are the things of Lifetime movie dramas, but in real life, they are preventable, and you can ensure that in this type of situation that you are protected, your assets are taken care of, and your children will be protected too.  People do not have to figure out the puzzle pieces of your life and wishes because you have made sure of it.

Change Your “What-If” to “Here’s How”

In so many of our blogs, we have broken apart pieces of the what if scenarios above and tried to make them make sense. The truth is that in a real-life situation it will be several items that help you, and not just one.  You cannot look at estate planning as just a Last Will and Testament, or a Healthcare Power of Attorney.  These legal tools are part of a larger Family Protection Plan.

Your Family Protection Plan protects your family when they leave for vacation (or college) by ensuring the powers of attorney and HIPAA authorization documentation necessary are on-hand and available for use.

A Family Protection Plan is there on paper and in your lawyer’s office to ensure your children do not end up as wards of the state for even one night!  You know where you want your kids to stay if there is an emergency, get it down on paper and make your desires undeniable and uncontestable.

And lastly, your Family Protection Plan grants you a sense of protection and self-direction even if you were to become incapacitate or sadly to leave us all too early.  With your plan, you will ensure your assets are transferred to those you want them to be.  You will make sure you are taken care of.  And you will make sure that even in your absence your family remains protected.

Contact Us

Talk to us Today about a Getting Your Family Protection Plans Started!

Contact

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Read More: 
Consider Your Estate Plan Before You Travel