It is estimated that 2.7 million grandparents are raising their minor grandchildren in their homes. The reasons for this are varied. The birth parents may be unable to care for their children because of physical or mental illness, substance abuse, incarceration, homelessness, poverty, or unemployment. In many cases the grandparents didn’t expect to be raising their grandchildren or at least expected it to be on a temporary basis that over time came to be permanent.
The balance of raising a young child while at the same time addressing the issues of aging and long term care presents unique issues that must be addressed to protect both grandparent and grandchild. The first issue is who will care for the grandchild if the grandparent should pass away or become unable to care for the grandchild if, for example, he or she requires nursing home care.
As I stated above, the grandchild often moves in with the grandparent on a temporary basis. As time goes by the grandparent becomes the de facto parent, however, there is no legal designation as such. If the grandparent dies (or otherwise can no longer care for the grandchild), provided the birth parents have not lost their parental rights they would assume the role of parent provided one or both are able to do so.
If such a result would put the grandchild’s wellbeing at risk, then consideration should be given to whether a guardianship for a minor or disabled grandchild is appropriate. The parents, if alive, must be notified of any court filing. If they are willing to step aside or it can be shown that they are incapable of caring for the child then guardianship can be awarded. Once appointed, the guardian has legal right and responsibility for the wellbeing of the minor. If the guardian becomes ill or passes away a successor guardian can be appointed.
Next week we’ll address financial issues and how long term care needs of the grandparent should be addressed for the protection of both grandparent and grandchild.