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What happens to my children if I were to pass away suddenly?

My dad always says, "Only two things are guaranteed in life. Death and taxes." While the cliche is a typical "dad joke," there is also some truth to it. Unfortunately, terrible, unspeakable things happen sometimes. This fact is an inescapable truth. 


We are all facing our mortality even more so in light of the current pandemic facing the world. While it is certainly not a comfortable topic to think about, the fact remains that planning and providing a life for our children is often one of our greatest concerns as parents. The reality right now is that people of all ages and walks of life are becoming ill…some gravely so. 


In many cases, if one parent is unable to care for the children, the children will be placed with the second parent. But what if this is not possible? If you share custody of the children, I would recommend both parents having this uncomfortable discussion and following the recommendations below considering what to do if:

1. the residential parent is unable to care for the children;

2. if the nonresidential parent is unable to care for the children; and

3. if both parents were to be unable to care for the children.


In a worst case scenario, if you were to become unable to care for your children (severely incapacitated or deceased) and your children were left without a caregiver, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, otherwise known as DCP&P or formerly DYFS (the “Division”) will likely be called upon to take custody of the children. The Division will attempt to locate family or friends to care for the children, but this will not necessarily happen overnight and it is entirely possible that the children would be placed in foster care until such caregivers could be located. Even once located, there is a process that would require that the caregivers be contacted, consent, and are evaluated before the Division will turn the children over. While the Division attempts to keep siblings together, this is not always possible.


While there is no doubt that the trauma the children are facing is unimaginable on its own, the only way to regain some control over this process is to formulate an emergency plan. First, consider making a list of trusted temporary guardians for your children that you’d like to be caregivers in the case of an emergency.


Consider writing a letter outlining your wishes and designating these people as caregivers. Make sure that you let someone know these plans and wishes have been created and where to find them. Perhaps you send them to some family, friends, or healthcare providers for the children so that they know your wishes in the event of an emergency.


Finally, ensure that you have gathered the important documents for your children such as their birth certificate, health insurance cards, social security cards, lists of healthcare providers, and any directives you’ve created for your children’s care. Make sure you have told someone where to locate these items. While preparing them is important, that preparation is wasted if no one can find them.


In some circumstances, some parents will opt to contact an attorney to obtain a living will, power of attorney, or other legal document granting temporary guardianship of your choosing under specific conditions such as if one or both parents become severely ill or worse. A Power of Attorney for example will allow the guardian you choose to care for the children until such time as you change or withdraw the power. 


Whether facing a global pandemic or not, it is worth taking a few minutes to think about and implement a plan to secure the well-being of your children if the unthinkable were to occur.


Should you have any questions regarding preparing a care-giving plan of action for your children's care, whether during these uncertain times or otherwise, do not hesitate to contact our office at 732-867-8894.



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