If you have kids who are getting ready to go back to school this Fall, then you will likely be sent home with an “official emergency card” to fill out either this month or next, depending on their start date.
I realize how chaotic that first week school can be…there’s already a ton of paperwork to fill out and homework to start. It can be tempting to just scribble down the names of nearby relatives or neighbors without giving that “official” card too much thought.
But doing so can be VERY dangerous for your kids if a real emergency happens. It could even cause them to wind up in the care of social services if something happens to you or your spouse during school hours (yes, really!).
Think about it, maybe hubby is out of town on a business trip and you are on your own taking care of the kids. Something unexpected happens, even a minor fender bender that lands you in the hospital temporarily. What happens next to your kids, legally?
Please understand that the emergency card only gives named contacts permission to pick your child up if they are sick, not take short-term legal custody of them if one or both parents are killed or incapacitated in an accident. The authorities are going to want to know Who has legal authority to have custody of a minor child? If they aren’t sure, they will call in CPS.
For this reason, I recommend creating an emergency plan before your kids go back to school, so there is no confusion or legal headaches should tragedy strike. This plan can be created in 3 easy steps:
1. Legally name 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. This document must be properly authenticated to be legally binding.
2. Make sure your short-term legal 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 until the surviving parent or legal guardian can arrive.
3. 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 family emergency plan is so easy – and something that will greatly pay off if a parent is injured or killed during school hours.
Remember, the first few hours after an emergency are the most painful for a child, so it’s important for parents to make sure their kids spend that time with people they love and trust, rather than scared and confused in the arms of a state agency.
If you don’t have a comprehensive plan in place or need to name short-term guardians for your child, you’ll want to get that taken care of. I can assure you that it feels GREAT knowing that you’ve got it taken care of! And it’s easier and more affordable than you might think. It’s something that every parent should have in place prior to the start of a new school year.
Darlynn Morgan is an estate planning lawyer at Morgan Law Group, a unique law firm that she created to truly make a difference in the lives of her clients. Register here: http://www.KidsProtectionWorkshop.com for our next Kids Protection Workshop is on September 27th at 10:00 am at We Play Loud in Lake Forest.
She’s really good at making it easy for your family to talk about and plan for tough subjects like money, death and taxes. For more, you can Follow her on Twitter , Friend her on Facebook or check out her Blog. If that’s not enough, you can also find her on Linked In or Avvo.