What happens if both parents are hospitalized for COVID-19 or you're a single parent in need of treatment? Experts share the top three things every parent can do to ensure every child stays in good hands during the pandemic.

Children sitting in front of house on cell phones wearing face masks
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Nearly 1 million Americans have confirmed cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19), and it continues to spread across the country. One particular question haunts parents with young kids: What happens if both Mom and Dad (or a single parent) become hospitalized with COVID-19 complications? Finding childcare during these times is understandably difficult, especially if any member of your immediate family has known exposure to the virus. 

Adding to the complexity, you can’t name simply someone as your child’s legal guardian without going through the court system and obtaining a judge’s approval, says Charley Moore, attorney and CEO of Rocket Lawyer. However, he adds, “there are other steps you can take to prepare for the possibility that your child will need a guardian or temporary caregiver.”

Here are three things every parent can do right now to ensure they have a reliable childcare contingency plan during the pandemic.

Find Temporary Caregivers

If Mom or Dad (or a single parent) tests positive for COVID-19, their children might have the virus too. If the worst happens and you have to go into the hospital, you'll need to find a temporary caregiver who is willing to risk exposure.

It makes sense to consider ahead of time who that person might be and discuss it with them. In an ideal world, you’ll find someone who already recovered from the coronavirus, and therefore might have some immunity, Thomas Murray, M.D., Ph.D., associate medical director for infection prevention at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, told The New York Times.

If this isn’t possible, choose younger relatives or friends who live nearby. You’ll probably want to take grandparents and those with preexisting medical conditions off the table because the coronavirus hits those groups especially hard. (And don’t take it personally if someone needs time to consider the situation; Remember that you’re asking them to put their own health in jeopardy through potential COVID-19 exposure.)

Complete Legal Guardianship Documents

If you find a temporary caregiver, the next step is completing a Child Care Authorization form, which is "a legal document that allows you to grant a caregiver the authority to do things such as pick up your children from school during the period of time they are with the caregiver,” says Moore. 

You’ll also need to complete medical treatment paperwork. “This is a specialized form that is only used to grant medical authorization to an adult who will be temporarily caring for your child,” says Moore. “You are able to choose the degree of medical authorization you are comfortable with, as well as provide medical and contact information in the form.”

Documentation needs for temporary guardians vary by state. The New York Times suggests visiting your state government’s website; check out the National Center for State Courts for links to judicial branches. You can also ask your attorney for more information, if you have one. Find more information on state statutes for standby guardianship here.

Have a Last Will and Testament in Place

It’s tough to think about, but you should also plan what’ll happen if you lose your battle with COVID-19. Moore suggests having a last will and testament. “Your will is the only official opportunity you have to nominate a legal guardian for your child in the event one will be needed following your death,” Moore says. “Ultimately, a court will decide who to appoint as your child’s guardian. But without a compelling reason not to, a judge will typically appoint the person you nominated in your will.”

If you don't have an attorney to draft the will, some websites can help you through the process for low or no cost (you might still need to sign the will with witnesses, though). These websites include Rocket Lawyer, Legal Zoom, and Quicken WillMaker & Trust.