The Power of Attorney for Parental Rights

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

The Power of Attorney for Parental Rights

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Sometimes, parents want to authorize a trusted family member or friend to make decisions about the care of their minor children while the parents are unavailable. In some states, parents can create powers of attorney for parental rights. For example, parents going on vacation out of the country may depend on their children's grandparents for care while they are away and want to give the grandparents legal authority to make decisions if the need arises.

Mother smiling at her daughter

In other states and in certain other situations, people caring for minor children can pursue legal guardianship for minor children through state courts.

Power of Attorney for a Minor Child vs. General Power of Attorney

If your state's laws authorize powers of attorney for minors, you can name someone as an agent, giving that person specific authority to make certain decisions. Your state's laws may limit who you can name as the agent for your child—in some states, only a "qualified" relative can serve in this role. This is different from your own power of attorney, where you can name any competent adult in this role.

When you give someone this power for your own affairs as an adult, you can grant broad authority, authorizing your agent to handle a wide variety of transactions on your behalf. In contrast, this authority over minor children, if allowed by state law, is typically limited to decisions about medical care and schooling, including the power to enroll your child in a school.

Where powers of attorney for adults can be durable, lasting until the creator's death or until the creator revokes the form, the same designation for minor children typically comes with time limits, often determined by state law. However, if a power of attorney for a child is still in effect when the child turns 18, it ends at that point.

Establishing Guardianship Instead of Using Power of Attorney for a Minor

Not all states' laws include provisions covering power of attorney for minors. If your state does not have a relevant law or if you want to allow someone to make decisions for a minor child that go beyond routine medical care and enrollment in school, consider legal guardianship as an alternative. For example, grandparents caring for a grandchild because the grandchild's parents are incompetent or deceased should consider establishing guardianship.

Parents who want to plan ahead can nominate someone in their wills to serve as guardian for their children in the event the worst happens and the parents pass away prematurely. Taking this type of proactive measure can protect your children and lower the risk of family disagreements because your will clearly spells out your wishes.

Making decisions about who should look after your children when you're unable to do so is incredibly important. Decide if you want to give someone else power of attorney for your children or nominate a guardian in your will, depending on your current situation. While designating someone to care for your minor children in the short term is helpful, including more long-term guidance in your estate planning documents will keep them safe in case of any unexpected emergency.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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