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Planning for a family emergency

Produced by Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed October 2020

All families should plan for who will care for your children in an emergency, especially during this uncertain time with COVID-19. This packet includes information to help you make a plan.

General planning

  • Talk as a family, about your emergency plan. Include your children. Decide who will take care of the children, where to keep important documents, who to call in an emergency.
  • Gather important documents: collect important documents like birth certificates and passports. Keep them in a safe place where your family knows where to find them. Use the Important Documents Checklist at the bottom of this page.

COVID-19 planning

You may want to fill out a “health care proxy”: You can fill out a form that gives someone else, called an “agent,” the right to make your health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so. Given uncertainty with COVID-19, this could be a valuable document to have prepared.

family clipart

Child Care Plan

Plan for who will care for your children if you cannot. Talk to your children and the caregiver you choose, so everyone knows the plan and agrees to it. Some steps you can take are:

  • Fill out a caregiver information page for each child: include important information about your child, like school information, medical information, allergies and medications, and other details that are important to your child’s daily life. You may also want to include other information that you’d want a caregiver to know like your child’s favorite book or toy and if there are any specific routines in the child's life. See the Child’s Vital Information Sheet at the bottom of this web page. Some of this information may be difficult to fill out at this time because of things like school closures.
  • Update school contacts: contact your child’s school when your child’s school is open again. Make sure they have the correct contact information for a few people you trust to pick your child up from school in case you cannot.
    • Tell the school you want to “opt-out,” or not be included, in any directory information the school puts out. This helps protect your information.
  • You may want to choose someone to care for your child if you cannot: You can choose from 2 different forms to give someone else the legal responsibility for your child. You do not have to go to court. Both forms are included in this packet.
    • Caregiver authorization affidavit gives the caregiver the power and responsibility to make decisions about your child’s education and medical care.
    • Temporary agent appointment allows the “agent,” or person you choose, to make any decisions a parent can make for your child for up to 60 days.

Who will make medical decisions for me if I cannot?

Think about these questions when you’re deciding who your health care agent (also called a health care proxy) should be:

  1. Do you have any religious or personal beliefs about sickness or dying?
  2. Can you imagine any situations so hard that you would not want medical treatments used to keep you alive?
  3. If someone else had to make medical decisions for you, are there certain people you would want them to talk to for advice (family members, friends, clergy, etc.)?
  4. Is there anyone you would NOT want involved in helping to make health care decisions for you?
  5. Do you want that person to follow your instructions or to do what they think is best for your health?
  6. Should financial or other family concerns be considered when making decisions about your medical care?
  7. Are there other things you would like the agent to know about you, if they had to make medical decisions for you?

A Health Care Proxy is legal document that allows you to choose someone you know and trust to make health care decisions for you if, for any reason and at any time, you become unable to make those decisions. You will need 2 people present as witnesses when you sign your healthcare proxy form. Your agent cannot be one of those 2 people. Within the form you can set limitations on what your agent can decide for you.

Who will take care of my child in an emergency?

Think about these questions when you pick a caregiver for your child:

  1. Is the person at least 18 years old? Only an adult can be a caregiver
  2. Is the person responsible?
  3. Is the person able and willing to care for my child?
  4. Does the person have any history with the Department of Children and Families (DCF)?
  5. Does the person have any criminal history?

After you pick a caregiver, you need to decide the kind of legal arrangement you will have with them. You have options.

Informal option

You can always make an informal plan with your family and friends, but this may not be the best option because it does not give the caregiver legal rights. Your plan can include talking to the people you want to care for your child or writing down what you want to happen in an emergency. An informal plan is the easiest, but your child’s school or doctor might not follow your plan and the caregiver may have to go to court to help your child.

Caregiver Affidavit Authorization

A caregiver affidavit authorization is a good option if your main concern is your child’s education and health. Many schools and doctors are already familiar with these forms.

The affidavit says who you want to be the caregiver and that your child will live with them. It gives the caregiver the right to make decisions about your child’s health care and education for up to 2 years.

You do not give up any of your rights when you sign it. And you can end the authorization at any time.

The caregiver authorization affidavit only needs the signature of one parent.

You need 2 witnesses to sign the form with you. And you must sign it in front of a notary. Because of COVID-19, in Massachusetts you can do a “remote notarization,” which means you can do it over video. You can also do a “drive-by” notary where you have limited contact outdoors with the notary. Call around for some options if you are interested in preparing a caregiver affidavit authorization and to learn more about the how to use a notary via videoconference.

The caregiver must also sign the affidavit. The caregiver will sign the form and use it whenever the child lives with him or her.

The Caregiver Affidavit Authorization form at the bottom of this page is different from the one you can get from the court. This form has space for you to add another caregiver if the one you picked is not available.

Give the original form to the caregiver and keep a copy with your important documents. Or tell your family members, a trusted friend, or your child where they can find the forms.

You do not have to put all your children on one form. You can fill out a form for each child. Each child needs their own form if they have different caregivers.

Caregiver Affidavit Authorizations are useful for any family.

Temporary Agent Appointments are useful if the caregiver needs to make decisions about your child’s finances or property.

Temporary Agent Appointment

The temporary agent appointment gives a caregiver more powers than the Caregiver Affidavit Authorization. A Temporary Agent Appointment gives a caregiver the power and responsibility to make more than healthcare and education decisions for your child. A Temporary Agent can also make decisions about your child’s property and finances. The person you choose to be the Agent can have any power you do.  But the Agent cannot give permission for your child to marry or be adopted.

The authorization says you give the agent the power to make decisions in your child’s life for up to 60 days after you are unavailable. You have the right to end the authorization at any time. After 60 days, you can renew the authorization, but you must complete a new form.

If you know where the other parent is and they are able and willing to care for your child, both parents must sign the Temporary Agent Appointment. If the other parent can care for the child, you may not need to fill out this form.

You need 2 witnesses to sign the form with you, but you do not need a notary.

The agent must also sign the authorization.

. Please consider social distancing guidelines when trying to prepare these forms and consider using video-calls and other methods to have the witnesses see you sign the document.

You can add a second person to the form, in case the person you picked to be Temporary Agent is not available.

You can use the Temporary Agent Appointment form at the bottom of this page.

Give the original form to the Agent and keep a copy with your important documents. Or tell your family members, a trusted friend, or your child where they can find the forms.

You do not have to put all your children on one form. You can fill out a form for each child. Each child needs their own form if they have different caregivers or parents.

Guardianship

A legal guardian has all the rights a parent has to make decisions for your child. Only a court can make someone a guardian, or end a guardianship. Someone that you choose to be a caregiver may need to become a legal guardian in the future if they need to take care of your child for a long time. If you plan for your child to live in the U.S. permanently, with the caregiver, you may want to prepare the guardianship paperwork so it can be filed if needed.

If someone becomes the legal guardian of your child, they have the right to make decisions about your child instead of you. If you want to end the guardianship, you will have to ask a judge to end it and the guardian can object. Think carefully before you decide to make someone you’re your child’s Guardian. You will be giving up your rights as a parent. See Guardians and Other Caregivers.

Advice for Survivors of Domestic Violence

If you are a survivor of domestic violence the person who abused you may try to take your child. You may need to collect documents that show why your abuser should not get custody. The caregiver you choose may need to go to court if the person who abused you tries to get custody of your child. Talk to your domestic violence counselor if you have one or reach out to a domestic violence program for more information and for safety planning. Find a list of domestic violence organizations on Jane Doe's website.

See Know your Rights and how to find legal help.

Forms you can use

  • Important Documents Checklist.
  • Child Vital Information Page - fill one out for each child.
  • Caregiver Authorization Form
  • Sample Caregiver Authorization Form with notes to explain how to fill in the form.
  • Caregiver Authorization Form in Spanish and English
  • Temporary Agent Appointment Form - useful if the caregiver needs to make decisions about your child’s finances or property.
  • Sample Temporary Agent Appointment Form with notes to explain how to fill in the form.
  • Massachusetts Health Care Proxy Form
  • Sample Healthcare Proxy Form with notes to explain how to fill in the form.
  • Planning for a Family Emergency - The whole packet with all the forms, instructions, and a directory of legal services.

Adapted for the Pandemic from the Family Emergency Planning packet produced in collaboration with: ACLU of Massachusetts, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Boston, Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, Community Legal Services and Counseling Center, Greater Boston Legal Services,Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program.

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