A power of attorney (POA) for a child allows parents and legal guardians to give another adult the temporary legal authority to make decisions about their minor child’s care.
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You can name a caregiver for your child and grant authority to make important decisions about your child’s medical care, education, and other needs. Typically, a caregiver appointed in a POA is referred to as an agent or attorney-in-fact.
When to Have a Power of Attorney for a Child
There are different situations when it can be a good idea to have a power of attorney for your child in place. If you need to leave your child in someone else’s care for several days or longer, you want that person to have the legal right to make decisions about your child’s care. Other common reasons to use a POA for a child include:
- Long vacations or work assignments far from home
- Hospital stays or other health issues that may prevent you from caring for your child for a length of time
- Deployment for active military duty
If you’re leaving your child in the care of someone else for a short period of time and only want your child’s caregiver to be able to make medical decisions in case of an emergency, you can probably just complete a consent form for medical treatment.
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Agent Authority Under the Power of Attorney for a Child
Under a power of attorney for a child, the person caring for your child is able to act as a parent or guardian in your absence. However, the power of attorney document does not terminate your parental rights or transfer custody to the agent and does not prevent you from continuing to make decisions for your child.
A POA for a child can be broad or narrow. You can give the agent almost all the powers you have as a parent, but there are some rights you cannot give away. The agent will not have the authority to give your child up for adoption or limit parent and guardian rights.
You also can give limited powers to the agent by listing the specific powers you are granting in the POA. You might want the agent to have the ability to make healthcare decisions and travel with your child but not the ability to enroll your child in a new school if the agent only will be caring for your child during the summer.
Choosing an Agent for Your Child
You should consider someone who has a good relationship with your child. Parents often choose close family members, like a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or an adult sibling. You can also choose a close family friend or loved one that your child is comfortable with.
It is important to pick someone you trust to make good decisions for your child. You might have a close family member whom you and your child love but who does not make the best personal or financial decisions. This person might not be the best choice to care for your child. You also should consider whether they are healthy enough to care for your child and have a flexible enough schedule to take your child to and from school, daycare, sports, and after-school programs.
It is helpful to discuss what you expect from a potential agent before appointing them. Doing so allows the potential agent to know the limits of their powers and what your wishes are for your child. It also gives the agent the opportunity to decline the appointment if they do not feel comfortable taking on responsibility for your child. By having a discussion, you will know whether the potential agent shares your values and goals for your child or whether you should choose someone else.
Length of a Power of Attorney for a Child
Depending on state law, a POA for a child usually lasts for six months or one year. You are able to limit this time period as much as you want but cannot extend it past the length required in your state. If you need the POA for a child to last for an extended period beyond the state limit, you can sign a new POA for your child. State time limits do not apply to military members on active duty. Under federal law, a military member’s POA for a child lasts until they return home from deployment.
If your situation changes and you no longer need the POA for a child, you can revoke it any time before it expires. To avoid confusion, you should inform your agent and your child’s healthcare providers and schools that you have revoked it.
What You Need to Create a Power of Attorney for a Child
To create a POA for a child, you need the following:
- Names, dates of birth, and contact information for yourself and your agent
- Names and dates of birth of all children included in the POA
- A description of when or how the POA starts and ends
- A list of the powers you wish to give your agent
If the child has two parents with joint legal custody, both parents should sign the power of attorney. If the other parent is unavailable or unreachable, your sole signature may be enough if you have attempted to contact the other parent in writing. A legal guardian is also permitted to sign a POA for a child.
Because this is a legal document that gives the agent authority to care for your child, you should have it notarized by signing in the presence of a notary public. When you leave your child in the agent’s care, the agent should keep the original notarized POA, your child’s health insurance cards, and proof of identification that may be required for your agent to care for the child. You should keep a copy of the POA for your records. If your child will be staying in another state or jurisdiction, your POA document should also comply with the laws there.
The Difference Between Power of Attorney for a Child and a Guardian
There are several important differences between a POA and guardian:
- Circumstances: A parent assigns a POA while they are temporarily unavailable, but a guardianship is appointed when the parent can no longer make their own decisions as a caregiver.
- Length of time: An agent has legal authority for a temporary period of time noted in the legal document, whereas a guardian has permanent legal authority, like a parent would, since guardianship occurs when a parent is no longer able to make decisions for the child.
- Court involvement: A POA is a private legal document that can be used without the interference of a court, and a guardian is appointed by the court.
- Decision-making powers: An agent has limited powers as discussed above, and a guardian has all the powers a parent would have. For example, a guardian is in charge of financial matters (like opening a bank account), but an agent is not.
- Revocation: A parent can terminate, or “revoke,” the POA at any time, but you need the court to intervene in order to change or revoke a guardianship.
Guardianship is a much more drastic measure than a POA for a child and is usually used as a last resort by courts. Similar to a guardianship but used for an adult child or an adult with incapacity is a conservatorship.
How to Create a Power of Attorney for a Child
Most of the time, you do not need the legal advice of a family law attorney to complete a power of attorney for children. You can use an online legal service like FindLaw to find power of attorney forms and other estate planning documents. FindLaw worked with a team of estate planning attorneys to create state-specific forms that are customized to meet the requirements in your state.
The last will and testament, health care directive and living will, health care power of attorney, and financial power of attorney forms also include instructions for signing and finalizing your documents.