Contrary to popular belief, your school Emergency Contact Form will not keep your children from spending time in the hands of social services if something bad happens to you. The emergency form only gives named contacts permission to pick your child up if they are sick, not to take short-term custody of your children if one or both parents die or are incapacitated due to illness or an accident.
For this reason, I recommend creating a back to school emergency plan as your kids head back this fall, so there is no confusion or legal headaches should you find yourself in this situation. This plan, with the help of your estate planning attorney, can be created in four easy steps:
1. Legally nominate short-term guardians for your kids. Short-term guardians have legal permission to care for your child until the surviving parent or long-term guardian can arrive. This should ultimately be someone who lives close by, and who will comfort your children in an emergency.
In Massachusetts, this can be accomplished as part of your overall estate plan.
2. Make sure your short-term guardians match those named on the school emergency card. In addition to listing friends and neighbors who can pick your child up from school if he or she gets sick, it’s equally important to list the full contact information of your short-term guardians for true emergencies. Without this information, the school could place your children in the custody of social services, or family members that you would rather not have custody, until the surviving parent or legal guardian can arrive.
3. Legally name long-term guardians for your kids. Long-term guardians are nominated through your Will to take permanent, legal custody of your children should the parent(s) pass away. Your long-term guardians do not need to be the same as your short-term guardians, although often they are. This doesn’t mean that you can overlook the detail to legally name them as both short-term and long-term guardians of your kids.
This is also handled as part of your estate plan.
4. Make sure the babysitter knows what to do if you don’t return home. It’s extremely important that parents give their babysitters detailed instructions on what to do and who to call if they don’t return home. In most cases, a babysitter will panic and turn to the police for help, again opening the door for social services to temporarily take custody of your kids until a long-term care provider can arrive.
Creating a Back-To-School Emergency Plan is easy and should be a top priority as the kiddos head off back to school. It will greatly pay off if a parent is injured or killed during school hours. Spending time with people they love and trust, rather than in the arms of social services and/or foster care, can be very comforting to a child in crisis. Contact Attorney Kristina Vickstrom if you would like to find out more information about creating a complete Back-To-School Emergency Plan as part of your Estate Plan.