Grandparents Raising Grandchildren- Legal Options and Financial Support

With the decline of the traditional nuclear family, individuals over 50 are increasingly vested with responsibility for the caretaking of young children and adolescents. Financial problems are the primary cause of seniors having to assume more “traditional” child-rearing duties. Whether due to a divorce, military service, substance abuse, mental illness or other secondary issues, some adults may be unable or simply unwilling to be good parents themselves.

After suffering ten years of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband, Jennifer finally filed for divorce and moved herself and her daughter in with her parents, Gerry and Donna Daly. Although the relocation was supposed to be temporary, Jennifer has exhausted her bank accounts, refuses to obtain employment, and has sunk into a deep depression. Gerry and Donna are proud, retired grandparents who want to ensure that their grandchild is raised with love, discipline, and opportunity. They have been expensing the household’s grocery bills and clothing for the child, as well as toting her from play-dates to extracurricular activities. The Dalys’ other children have begun to voice concern over their parents’ spending, noting that their income is supposed to sufficiently cover a two-person household and not be stretched to support a four person family. While Gerry and Donna understand their concern, they don’t believe in asking Jennifer and her daughter to leave and have the utmost confidence that Jennifer will get back on her feet. What are their legal and financial options?

Many times, the child-rearing duties that grandparents assume will cause a real strain on seniors’ budgets. Child care costs can grow exponentially dependent on the length of time a grandparent will be asked to assist in raising his or her grandchild. Given this responsibility, these seniors might consider obtaining legal authority to make decisions for that child – on important issues such as healthcare and schooling – and financial assistance from the State.

In Massachusetts alone, 67,781 children reside in grandparent-headed households. Although the Daly’s granddaughter is physically living in their home and they are raising her, Gerry and Donna do not have any legal rights or authority to make decisions on behalf of the children. Jennifer could sign a form giving her parents ‘caregiver authorization.’  This is a caretaking option provided by the Massachusetts Uniform Probate code and allows parents to authorize a designated caregiver to exercise “concurrent parental rights” on healthcare and schooling matters. Provided that the caregiver lives with the child, the authorization is valid for two years and does not require court approval. Caregiver authorization is an alternative to filing for Guardianship of a Minor, a court decree effectively suspending the rights of the parents and transferring them to a guardian entrusted with caretaking responsibility. Depending on Jennifer’s state, this may be necessary for the Dalys.

If you are on a fixed income and unable to get help from a child’s parents, the child may be eligible for payments from Massachusetts’ Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children and medical coverage through MassHealth. For further information on assistance through these and similar programs, consider reviewing the Massachusetts “Resource Guide for Grandparents Raising their Children.”

While it may be your desire to become legally and financially responsible for your grandchildren, you are not required to as a matter of law. It is ultimately up to the Commonwealth to assign custody to a suitable individual. However, if circumstances have placed your grandchildren in your home, it is helpful and oftentimes necessary to review your present legal options and to adapt an existing estate plan to ensure that the unique challenges of caring for grandchildren are addressed. Contact Vickstrom Law to your situation and get informed on your options.

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