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7 Things to Do if You’re a Grandparent Caring for Your Grandkids

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Are you part of a “grandfamily,” a term used for grandparents being the primary caregivers for their grandchildren? If you are taking care of your grandkids, you may have realized that it comes with unique benefits – and challenges.

Unless you have gone to court to get legal custody, guardianship or to adopt your grandkids, you don’t automatically have the same legal rights as parents to protect your grandchildren, physically and financially. That’s why it’s so important to understand grandparents’ rights.

Here are seven things you can do to navigate the additional challenges that come with being a grandfamily:

1. Gain temporary custody (also known as temporary guardianship) in case of medical emergencies.

If you aren’t the children’s legal guardian, you’ll want to get a custodial consent form so that you are able to handle any medical emergencies that may occur. The temporary custody form will need to be signed by the legal guardians/parents and notarized. You could also have the parents give you power of attorney, but in many states the consent form is all you need. Eventually, this could be a step on the path to getting permanent custody of a grandchild or grandchildren.

2. Make sure your grandchildren have health insurance.

If the children aren’t covered by a parent’s health insurance and you are employed, check with your employer to see if your legal situation makes it possible to add them to your health insurance. Otherwise the children may qualify for Medicaid or your state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program.

3. Learn what you need to do to enroll kids in school.

If you have power of attorney, then you should be able to enroll your grandchildren tuition-free in your local public schools. Some states also have education consent laws, which means you can show the consent form (that also applies to medical care in #1) and be allowed to enroll your grandkids in school.

4. Take advantage of tax credits.

If your grandchild meets the IRS definition of a “qualifying child” (lives with you more than half of the days in a year, provides less than half of his or her own financial support and is under the age of 19 or a full-time student under age 24) you could qualify for several tax credits. Visit IRS.gov for the most up-to-date information on credits you may be able to receive.

5. Look into financial support options.

Raising children is expensive, and if you are on a fixed income or already retired, you may want to look into ways to get additional money to provide for your grandchildren’s needs. Ideally, if the parents are able, they should be sharing financial responsibilities and contributing monthly to expenses. If parents aren’t able or willing to provide support, you can also look into federal or state programs that provide assistance, such as the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. Qualifications and benefits vary by state.

6. Update your will and estate plans.

As a grandparent, your estate planning will allow you to legally distribute your financial assets to your grandchildren and name someone to manage the assets if your grandchildren are minors. If your grandchildren are minors, you will also want to make sure and name legal guardians for them (if you are currently their legal guardian), otherwise the state would get to decide who cares for the children in the event of your passing.

7. Start saving for college expenses.

State-sponsored 529 plans and federally regulated Coverdell education savings accounts allow you to contribute up to specified limits annually (this will vary by state) that will go toward your grandchildren’s tuition, room, board and other qualified expenses. The money you put in the account earns interest – but you won’t have to pay taxes on the interest.

Note: State laws vary greatly regarding legal issues for grandparents. If you have questions or are considering pursuing legal custody, adoption or guardianship, you should contact a local attorney who practices family law.

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