As parents, we constantly want to be involved in the everyday lives of our children, and also want to make empowering decisions to improve their well-being. Sometimes, parents must face situations where they find themselves having to grant that authority to a third party. Whether this authority is granted to a family member, friend, or even school teacher, we always want to be aware as to what this authority entails and which process works better for our needs.

Man signing a legal document on a glass table with a another person pointing a pen on where to sign

In Florida, there are several processes one could use to grant a third-party the authority to make decisions for one’s children. Two of the methods most commonly used are the Power of Attorney and a Guardianship Proceeding. Both entail a different process and the extent of the authority varies between the two.

Power of Attorney

Power of Attorney over a child is a signed document, not a court order, that is notarized by a parent that gives another person the authority to make decisions for a minor. This suggests that even though it is accepted by many people and organizations as proof that the person has the legal right to make decisions for another parent’s child, this may not always be the case. Yet, many parents prefer Power of Attorney over a guardianship proceeding because it is faster and less formal than a guardianship proceeding in court.

What Power of Attorney Does and Doesn’t Authorize

Power of Attorney is typically adopted by a parent who is unavailable for a period of time and wants to grant authority to another person over their child. It can be used to authorize a person to get medical treatment for a child or for making other significant decisions. Powers can also be limited to something very specific such as to attend school reunions or take the child to medical appointments. Power of attorney cannot be used to transfer custody or to supersede the right of the other parent. The power of attorney does not affect the rights of the child’s parents regarding the care, custody, and control of the child and can be withdrawn at any time, even before the expiration date. However, it is best that this withdrawal is in writing and delivered to the person granted the power of attorney.

Guardianship Proceeding

Guardians are individuals who can make legal decisions about a child and are appointed through a court proceeding, which grants them the legal authority to make decisions about someone’s child. A guardian must provide food, clothing, shelter, education and all medical and dental needs of the child. A guardian must also provide for the safety, protection, and physical and emotional growth of the child. Like a parent, a guardian must maintain close contact with the child’s school and physician. A guardian’s authority focuses on the personal welfare of the child but must handle basic financial affairs of the child.

How a Parent Can Give Guardianship to Another Person Over Their Child?

To obtain a guardianship over a minor, a petition must be filed in court. Parents must have an opportunity to object, and a judge must sign an order granting the guardianship. Unlike Powers of Attorneys, which can be revoked at any time, guardianships usually last until the minor reaches 18 years of age. In order to end the guardianship before the child turns 18, a parent would need to petition the court to end or vacate the guardianship. A judge may hold a hearing prior to granting or vacating a guardianship.

When the child has a guardian, the parents are still obligated to support the child financially. The guardian may take action to obtain child support and may apply for public assistance and/or private funds on the child’s behalf, for which the child is eligible. However, money and property of the child’s estate must be kept separate from the Guardian’s personal assets, therefore a separate bank account for the child must be opened.

Conclusion

When choosing between a Power of Attorney and Guardianship, it usually comes down to whether a parent is under a time constraint or the level of authority that parent wishes to grant to the third-party. The faster route without court intervention is to use Power of Attorney; to broaden the authority and custody of a child, guardianship is the more appropriate option. Regardless of which option one might go with, having an attorney draft these documents or go to court with you is always recommended.