Legal Docs You Need Before Leaving Your Little Ones

The Stork Fund was kind enough to link to this blog for helpful tips for parents everywhere preparing to leave their little ones then hurry right back home again (to quote from one of our favorite books around here, Mama Always Comes Home). 

The Stork Fund’s article had me laughing out loud, nodding in agreement, and checking my calendar again to see when on earth my husband and I might actually be able to try to escape our little brood for a grown-ups only vacation.  

One piece of sage advice the Stork Fund offers in that post on how to Be a Better, Happy, Healthier Parent is to prepare for your getaway with a legal document called a Power of Attorney.  That’s a pretty generic term as there are many types of powers of attorney that serve many varying purposes.    Different states have different laws and names for different legal documents so what it was called in your last state of residence or what your friends or family members in other states call it may not be the same as here in Massachusetts. 

In fact, if your estate planning legal documents are from another state or are more than a couple years old, you should have them reviewed by an attorney who regularly practices in the complex field of “estate planning” (a “family lawyer” generally means one who practices in the areas of divorce, child custody, and support) in the state where you currently reside to ensure that they are current and adequate to accomplish your goals, your way, for you and your family. 

Please be cautioned as well that the simple form documents readily available for very low fees online are likely not sufficient to do this.  When you hire an attorney for your family’s legal documents, you should not be hiring a glorified form-filler.  Rather you should be consulting and engaging with someone trained to spot nuances and raise issues, advise you on unique areas of concern to you, and guide you in the process of making the best, most informed choices possible for yourself and your family. 

The value with an attorney is in that highly personalized counseling and advice, ideally combined with the benefit of a lasting professional relationship for ongoing advice regarding your family’s legal needs and cannot fairly be compared to an even exchange for online form documents you complete without any counseling or advice yourself.  Akin to selecting a long term primary care physician, desk-side manner matters in your choice of an estate planning attorney too – if it’s to be a good, ongoing relationship, it has to be comfortable both ways.

And because most attorneys, unlike impersonal websites, are not open for business 24/7/365, you should not wait until just before you’re packing to leave for your vacation to call!  Take at least as much time considering and planning for the what ifs as you do selecting a vacation destination, planning your trip, and packing for it.  The time to locate the right attorney for your family and call is now.  If you are a parent of minor children with no, incomplete, outdated, or totally generic estate planning documents in place, there is probably no more important item for your to do list.

So Massachusetts parents looking for that brief escape to make the heart grow even fonder, be aware that there are a few different types of powers or appointments you need to fully protect your children in the event of an emergency.  I like to think about it in practical terms and likelihood of needing and using these legal documents.  Personally, I just did so I am speaking from recent, visceral, motherly, practical experience here. 

First we have to plan for the immediate, practical aftermath of any type of emergency which makes it impossible for us as parents to pick up our children from camp, school, daycare, etc. or/and return home to care for them.  Simple understandings and agreements amongst friends and neighbors, even close family nearby, might not be enough depending on the circumstances.  There is a better, legal way to ensure your children will not be stranded or left in the care, even for a very short time, of strangers. 

Next we need to plan for the longer term.  In the too-awful-to-even-contemplate for more than a minute event that we should die on our way to or coming back from vacation (or the supermarket or work or date night or a business trip or….) and before our children are grown, it is up to us to plan not only for who would care for them daily, but also who would manage whatever financial resources (life insurance etc.) we may be leaving them.

Our unique family and financial circumstances combined with our priorities (as a team of parents if we’re planning with our spouses or partners) are what help determine which type of plan to include which specific legal documents will best suit our needs.  And to be clear, when combined this is what makes each estate plan a “snowflake” – we don’t fit exactly into cookie cutters ourselves and our estate plans shouldn’t either (to mix metaphors here!). 

Now if you’ll excuse me please, I’m going back to my calendar to see about that kiddie-free getaway with my husband….

About Danielle G. Van Ess

Danielle G. Van Ess is a Massachusetts (born and raised), experienced estate planning and small business attorney who helps her clients protect and preserve what matters most to them. To learn more, please visit: dgvelaw.com or call: 781-740-0848