If you are a parent, then you are likely worried about how the coronavirus pandemic may affect your family—no matter how old your children are. If your 19-year-old child who lives away from home (perhaps in college) becomes seriously ill and requires a relatively extreme medical procedure, for instance, you won’t be able to provide consent on their behalf—or even obtain their medical information—without the necessary legal documents.
While much of the current pandemic may be out of your hands, there are some legal steps you can take to be better prepared for the safety of you and your family. An easy way to do this is to ensure you prepare certain legal documents, apply for paid leave to care for your child, or take other actions as needed. We’ll discuss these and more in the following sections.
Questions about the coronavirus pandemic?
Visit the Coronavirus Legal Center and ask a lawyer today.
What legal documents do I need?
The exact legal documents you should have in place will depend on your unique circumstances. However, as a parent who is concerned about COVID-19, you may need at least one of the following legal documents:
- Last Will and Testament (Free)
- Living Will (Free)
- Healthcare Power of Attorney (Free)
- Child Care Authorization Form
- Medical Treatment Authorization for a Minor
- Nanny Agreement
For free access to several of these essential legal documents, visit the Coronavirus Legal Center for Individuals and Families.
How do I name a guardian or caregiver for my minor child if I am unable to care for them?
As the parent of a young child, being unable to care for your child may be your biggest concern. While you can’t name someone as your child’s legal guardian without going through the court system and obtaining a judge’s approval, there are other steps you can take to prepare for the possibility that your child will need a guardian or temporary caregiver:
- Make sure you have a Last Will and Testament in place. Your will gives you the opportunity to nominate a legal guardian for your child in the event one may be needed following your death. Ultimately, a court will decide who to appoint as your child’s guardian; however, absent a compelling reason not to, a judge will typically appoint the person you nominated in your will.
- Complete a Child Care Authorization form. A child care authorization is a legal document that allows you to grant a caregiver the authority to do things such as school pick up or consent to medical treatment for your minor children during the time they are with the caregiver.
- Execute a Medical Treatment Authorization for a Minor. This is a specialized form that is only used to grant medical authorization to an adult who will be temporarily caring for your child. You are able to choose the appropriate degree of medical authorization and provide medical and contact information in the form.
If my child’s school is closed, how should I handle their care?
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many school systems across the country have shut down for the foreseeable future. For parents with young children, having to scramble to provide childcare or supervision for your children who would normally be at school presents a huge challenge, especially for those with work. Some possible solutions include:
- Hiring a nanny. If you are fortunate enough to be able to hire someone to care for your child in your home, consider executing a Nanny Agreement. This is a contract between you and the person caring for your child and covers things such as work schedules, pay rate and paydays, health insurance, and details about your child’s care.
- Relying on a friend or family member. If you plan to rely on a friend or family member to care for your child, you may wish to fill out a Child Care Authorization Form which allows you to grant authorization to your caregiver to do things such as consenting to medical treatment.
- Applying for paid leave from the federal government. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides for up to 12 weeks of emergency FMLA leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. During the time you qualify under the law, you will earn two-thirds of your usual pay, up to a daily limit of $200. (You should be able to qualify directly through your employer as long as you have been employed for more than 30 days.) You may also be eligible for two weeks of paid sick leave to care for your minor children. Both emergency FMLA leave and paid sick leave are limited to businesses with fewer than 500 employees. If you have questions about your rights as an employee, ask a lawyer.
If my child becomes ill with coronavirus, can I take time off?
If your child contracts COVID-19, the last thing you want to worry about is losing your job because you need to stay home (or stop working from home) to care for them. Fortunately, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act may also cover you under this scenario. The new law gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking a diagnosis or preventive care because of the coronavirus, or if they are caring for a sick family member.
What can I do for my adult children?
If your child is over 18 years of age, even as a parent, you are not entitled to their medical records or have the power to make medical treatment decisions for them. In fact, the law treats parents of children over 18 as complete strangers (even if they’re covered by the parent’s health insurance plan). Thus, it is crucial to be prepared for medical emergencies so the right decisions can be made and your adult child can get the care they need. Absent the appropriate legal document, such decisions are made by medical staff (or, in certain cases, a court) unless the patient gives consent, which may not be possible during a medical emergency.
One of the best solutions is to make sure they create and execute advance directives. Doing so ensures that their wishes are known and that the person they designate—not a court—makes healthcare decisions for them when they are not able to make decisions themselves. Most states recognize two types of Advance Directive:
- A Living Will allows one to make their wishes known regarding medical treatment they specifically wish to accept or reject. This may include life-prolonging or life-sustaining measures and treatment intended to relieve pain and end-of-life decision making (like what happens if one falls into a coma).
- A Healthcare Power of Attorney allows one to designate someone as their “agent” to make healthcare decisions for them if they are unable to make decisions themselves. It is different from a Living Will because it is generally broader and gives the designated agent the ability to make all health care decisions on their behalf.
Any parent or guardian can make an Advance Directive for free in the Coronavirus Legal Center for Individuals and Families.
In these uncertain times, it is ever more important to get good legal advice and plan ahead for the worst-case scenario. If you have legal questions about how to protect your family in light of the COVID-19 crisis, ask a lawyer.