If you will be leaving a child in someone else’s care for an extended period of time, you may want to give them the legal authority to act in your place. This can be accomplished with a power of attorney, giving someone you trust (called the agent or attorney-in-fact) the ability to make medical decisions and secure medical treatment for your child.
When is a power of attorney for a child needed?
A parent or legal guardian has the authority to act on their child’s behalf. This is especially important when it comes to consenting to medical treatment and making other medical decisions. As long as a parent (or guardian) is available, there is no need for a power of attorney for your child. However, if neither parent is available to do things such as sign a medical consent form, another adult can be authorized to do so with a document commonly called a power of attorney for child or power of attorney for minor child.
This is typically done when parents are going out of town (for vacation, work, military deployment, etc.) and will be leaving a child with friends or relatives, or when a child is being sent out of town to live with friends or relatives. If your child will be living in another state, the document should comply with the legal requirements of that state.
Difference from guardianship
A power of attorney for child gives the designated agent the temporary authority to make decisions, but the parent still retains the same authority. In a guardianship, the parental authority is permanently transferred to the legal guardian, and the parent no longer has the authority to make decisions for the child. A parent may revoke a power of attorney at any time, but only a court can change guardianship.
Any power of attorney for child will include:
- The names, addresses, and phone numbers of the parent(s) or guardian signing the document.
- The names and addresses of the agent (and any alternative agent).
- The name and date of birth of each child covered by the document.
- When the agent’s authority begins and ends (this is discussed more below).
- Contact information for each parent or guardian (where they may be reached while away, including email addresses if available).
- The powers or authority delegated to the agent (this is discussed more below).
If both parents are alive, then ideally both parents should sign the document. However, since it is not necessary for both to sign a medical consent form, it should also not be necessary for both to sign a power of attorney. If only one signs, and the other is available, then that parent can make decisions and the power of attorney will not be needed.
The document will also have to be signed and dated by the parent(s) or guardian. It will need to comply with the law of the state for a power of attorney, which typically requires the signatures of witnesses, and may also require that it be signed before a notary public.
Choosing an agent
Legally, any mentally competent adult may serve as your agent. It does not need to be a family member. Practically, your agent should be someone you trust with the care of your child, someone your child knows, and someone who is willing to take on the responsibility.
Duration of a power of attorney for child
The power of attorney should state when the agent’s authority begins and ends. It can state that the authority begins immediately, or upon a certain date. Some states limit the duration of a power of attorney for child to six or twelve months. If that is the case, you would need to execute a new document when the previous one expires. Federal law allows a member of the armed forces to grant a power of attorney for child until the service member returns from deployment.
To give an agent authority for medical care, you can either execute a temporary medical power of attorney for child, or include this authority as part of a more comprehensive power of attorney form for child. Typical medical-related powers include the authority to make medical, dental, and mental health treatment decisions; and have access to health records. You could also specifically state any limitations on the power your agent may exercise, and indicate your preferences for doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers.
A more comprehensive document would typically include the authority to enroll the child in school, consent to participation in extracurricular activities (field trips, sports, etc.), have access to school records, attend parent-teacher conferences, and make decisions regarding the child’s education. It can designate specific types of authority, or can broadly grant general authority to act on the child’s behalf. Some states prohibit granting an agent certain parental rights, such as consenting to marriage or adoption, or transferring the property of the minor child.
Using a power of attorney
The original signed document should be given to your agent. He or she will then provide copies of the document, as needed, to health care providers, schools, etc.
In certain situations a power of attorney for child care can help assure that your child will receive the care he or she needs when you can’t be readily available.
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