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Essential Documents Every Parent Should Have

You care for your children in many different ways. Ensure your children are always cared for by learning about the important documents that can protect them when you're not around.

Essential documents for protecting your children

These are our top documents that parents around the world use every day to prioritize their children's interests.

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Step 1

Child Medical Consent

A Child Medical Consent is a document where a parent or guardian grants permission to a caregiver or other person to make medical decisions for a chil...

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Step 2

Child Travel Consent

A Child Travel Consent is a letter of parental permission for a minor child to travel with one parent, a group, another person, or alone.

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Step 3

Last Will & Testament

Protect your assets and your loved ones with a Last Will and Testament. You can divide your property, choose a guardian for your children, and name so...

There are many ways that parents and guardians care for their minor children. From stocking the fridge to creating a college fund, parents and guardians do what they can to ensure their children are cared for in the short and long term.

Parents and guardians often overlook how creating certain legal documents can protect their children and ensure their care. As a parent, you can create documents that protect your minor children's health, education, guardianship, financial security, and travel abilities.

In this guide, we'll tell you about six key documents and why every parent with minor children should be using them to safeguard their children's well-being.


Last updated: December 13, 2021

Table of contents


Your minor children's access to medical care doesn't only rely on your finances and insurance. In addition to financial protection, your children's access to health care relies on them always having an authorized and available adult who can consent to their medical treatments.

A Child Medical Consent allows you to authorize another adult to consent to your child's medical care when you're unavailable. Essentially, this consent form ensures that your child can access medical care without delay when their legal guardians are not immediately available.

When do parents need to create a Child Medical Consent?

As a parent, there are periods when you have to be away from your minor children and leave them with a temporary caregiver. These periods can last anywhere from a day to much longer.

Perhaps you send your kids to daycare or after-school care. Maybe you have to travel overnight for your job or a vacation. Or, perhaps you are in the military and have to deploy for long periods. There may also be times when your children travel away from home with another adult, such as a teacher or chaperone.

Unfortunately, accidents and emergencies can still happen during these periods of separation. By creating Child Medical Consents, you can ensure your children's care when they are being cared for by a:

  • Babysitter (as long as they are at least 18 years old)
  • Daycare
  • Teacher
  • Trip chaperone
  • Grandparent
  • Relative
  • Family friend

By creating Child Medical Consent forms before you are separated from your children, you can ensure your child has access to medical care whenever they need it. For example, if you are traveling without your children and one requires a therapy session, your authorized caregiver could give their consent for your child to attend an appointment.

You may be more motivated to create a Child Medical Consent if your child has a serious health issue and you spend periods of time separated from them. For example, if your child has a severe allergy, you may want another adult to have the authority to consent to their care during an allergic reaction.

For single parents and guardians with sole custody, creating a Child Medical Consent is essential when leaving a child with a temporary caregiver. For parents and guardians who share custody, a consent form may only be necessary when both guardians are separated from their child.

What happens if I don't have a Child Medical Consent?

If you don't create a Child Medical Consent, your child's care may be delayed when they require medical treatment. Delayed medical treatment can cause unnecessary stress on temporary caregivers.

However, depending on the circumstances, your child may still be able to receive some care when you're unavailable and their temporary caregiver doesn't have a Child Medical Consent.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, an ER can do initial screenings without parental consent and can act without parental consent if the child's life is in danger. However, if your child requires something besides a screening or life-saving treatment while you're unavailable, they will likely have to wait for treatment until you can be reached and provide your consent.

State laws on minor consent to medical care

Depending on your state, you may not need a Child Medical Consent form as your child approaches 18 years of age. States have varying laws that dictate when minors can consent to their own routine medical care.

For example, in Kansas, any minor 16 years of age or older may give their own consent to hospital, medical, and surgical procedures when no parent or guardian is immediately available.

If you have a teenager who is approaching 18 years of age, you can check your state's laws to determine whether creating a Child Medical Consent is necessary.


To protect children and ensure they are in safe situations, travel authorities may request certain documentation when children travel. Besides valid identification, such as a passport, travel authorities can ask for a Child Travel Consent form when a child is traveling domestically or internationally without one or both guardians.

A Child Travel Consent is a form that shows your permission for your minor child to travel with their other guardian, another individual, or a group.

Although immigration officers, airline personnel, and border security agents do not always ask for a Child Travel Consent form, it is certainly worth preparing for the possibility. In fact, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recommends that a child needs a consent form, signed either by one or both legal guardians when they are:

  • Traveling with one parent or legal guardian
  • Traveling with someone who is not a parent or legal guardian
  • Traveling with a group without one or both parents

The only time when a child does not need a Child Travel Consent is when they are accompanied by both their legal guardians or they are traveling with their sole legal guardian.

According to CBP, if there is no second parent with legal claims to your child, it is a good idea for them to travel with additional documentation, such as a court decision, birth certificate naming only one parent, or death certificate, to prove that they only have one legal guardian.

In addition, if you and your child have different surnames, you may require extra documentation, such as a Child Travel Consent, to prove your parentage. For example, the United Kingdom requires supporting evidence of your parentage for any parent or parents traveling with a child with a different last name.

Besides creating a form, a Child Travel Consent should also be notarized to establish its credibility.

How does a Child Travel Consent form protect my child?

Without a form, your child and the person they are traveling with could encounter obstacles, such as detainment by border security. If a child doesn't have a Child Travel Consent form and border security agents ask for one, the agents may contact you by phone to establish your consent. This step can complicate the travel process and add unnecessary stress.

Additionally, travel authorities ask for Child Travel Consent forms for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Ensuring one parent doesn't take a child from the other parent
  • Preventing abductions and kidnappings
  • Fighting human trafficking

3. Last Will and Testament

Although it can be difficult to think about the possibility of dying while your children are minors, planning ahead and creating a Last Will and Testament is the best thing you can do to protect their happiness and wellbeing.

A Last Will and Testament allows you to appoint a guardian for your minor children, and ensure they inherit your estate under your desired terms. Your Will is one of the most important legal documents because it affects your children's well-being after your death.

Guardianship

The guardian you name will be legally responsible for your children's physical care, health, education, and welfare until they are adults.

Thoughtfully naming a guardian for your children in your Will is amongst the most important steps in planning their care. Creating a Will is the best way to set up guardianship and the best way to ensure your children will reside with the guardian you prefer.

Of course, if you pass away and your children still have another legal guardian, such as your spouse, the selection of guardian in your Will will not matter. An exception to this situation is if your children's remaining legal guardian is unfit to raise children. In this case, a court could uphold the selection of guardian in your Will.

Inheritance

In the United States, minors are protected by the law and cannot be disinherited, regardless of whether the parent had a Will. Regardless of this protection, it's imperative that you create a Will to control the terms in which your children will inherit your estate.

For example, if you should pass away and want your child to have limited access to their inheritance while they are young, a probate court can enforce this decision if you've included it in your Will.

Similarly, if you have more than one child, you can outline specific gifts that you want each child to inherit from your estate. In addition, you and your spouse can financially care for your kids through your Will by allocating money for their guardian(s) so they can afford your child's care.


4. Power of Attorney (POA) for Child

One of the most useful documents that you can use to plan your child's care is a Power of Attorney for Child. If you are ever unavailable or declared incapacitated while your child is a minor, it's essential that you have a POA for your child already created.

A Power of Attorney for Child authorizes another adult to make parental decisions for your minor child if you are unavailable.

Unlike a Child Medical Consent form, which only covers your child's medical care, a Power of Attorney for Child can safeguard all areas of your child's life including decisions relating to:

  • Health care
  • Education
  • Maintenance
  • General care

A Power of Attorney for Child mostly applies to two situations: incapacity and unavailability.

Incapacity means you can't perform functions or duties due to a temporary or permanent disability or state. For example, being in a coma or diagnosed with dementia result in a declaration of incapacity. If you only want a Power of Attorney for Child to become effective upon your incapacity, you can specify incapacity as a triggering event of enforceability.

Secondly, a Power of Attorney for Child could apply to situations in which you will be unavailable to care or make decisions for your child. These situations can include traveling without your child, deploying in the military, or staying at the hospital for an extended period.

Parents and guardians who share custody may not need to worry as much about this document because one party can be available when the other is not. However, when they are both unavailable, they should create a Power of Attorney for Child.

If you have sole custody, you may be more motivated to create this form for any times you will be unavailable to care for your child.

Power of Attorney versus legal guardianship for child

Someone having the authority to temporarily make decisions for your child, through a Power of Attorney form, is quite different than someone having guardianship over your child.

Most importantly, guardianship is court-appointed. If you become incapacitated for a long period, your minor child doesn't have another legal guardian, and you don't have a durable Power of Attorney, a court could have to appoint a guardian for your child. Without a POA, your family could be tied up in court figuring out who should be your child's legal guardian instead of focusing on your care.

Instead, in the case you become incapacitated and leave your child without another legal guardian, a Power of Attorney allows a representative to make decisions that protect your children without having to seek court approval.

Therefore, you can ensure your child's care, and control who has the ability to provide care, by creating a Power of Attorney document that includes child care powers.


5. Power of Attorney

Much like having a Power of Attorney for your child, having a Power of Attorney for yourself ensures that someone trustworthy, known as your agent, can act in your place and make important decisions that affect your children.

A Power of Attorney gives someone the authority to make financial, property, and real estate decisions on your behalf.

How does having a Power of Attorney protect my children?

If you're incapacitated and have a binding Power of Attorney, your agent can act on your behalf and ensure your children are cared for financially.

For example, if you are divorced and your ex-spouse cannot afford childcare costs while you are incapacitated, the agent named in your Power of Attorney could transfer some money from your bank account to your ex-spouse. In this example, having a Power of Attorney ensures your children's care and well-being.


6. Healthcare Directive

Next to losing a parent, watching a parent struggle with their health and well-being is extremely difficult for children. Furthermore, if you can't make your own medical decisions due to incapacity, it is emotionally draining for your family to guess what you would want.

During already difficult circumstances, you can make things easier on your family by planning your health care preferences ahead of time with the appropriate document.

A Healthcare Directive is a document in which you outline your health care wishes and appoint someone to make medical treatment decisions for you when you are no longer able to make them for yourself. If your directive only outlines your wishes, it's also known as a Living Will. If your directive only appoints a decision-maker, it's also known as a Medical Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy.

How do Healthcare Directives protect my children?

Although your minor child won't have to make decisions regarding your care when you're incapacitated, they can still be affected by the circumstances of your care.

If adult family members disagree about your medical care while you're incapacitated, it could be tough for your children to witness family disputes during an already difficult time. For example, if you're in a coma and your spouse and your parents disagree about your course of treatment, your children could feel caught in the middle.

When it comes to your medical preferences, it's best to leave nothing up to interpretation.Planning ahead and clearly outlining your healthcare preferences is good for everyone—especially your family.


Care for your children with the right documents

Parents and legal guardians do whatever it takes to ensure the care of their children. Part of protecting children is having the proper documents created for every possibility. To summarize, here are three points to remember:

  1. When children are traveling, check whether you need to create a Child Travel Consent for them. If one or both of their legal guardians aren't going to be with them, you need to create one.
  2. When you're going to be separated from your children for any reason, consider creating Powers of Attorney for Child and Child Medical Consent forms. These documents ensure they can always access medical treatment.
  3. Every parent should have a Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, and Healthcare Directive for themselves. These documents ensure that your children are always cared for and communicate your wishes when you can't.

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