May 26, 2021 Lifestyle

The Problem with Undocumented Grandparents

Jeffrey M. Allen

First off, let me make it clear that I am not writing about an immigration issue. The problem of undocumented grandparents may not have the cache’ of an immigration expose’, but it does have significance to those of us with grandchildren. Here’s a news flash: Most grandparents lack adequate or appropriate documentation.

Grandparents often babysit their grandchildren. Grandparents frequently take their grandchildren on excursions and sometimes even prolonged trips. Doing so without adequate and appropriate documentation can prove risky to the physical health of the grandchild and the mental and emotional health of the grandparent. Accordingly, I will focus on what documentation a grandparent should have available whenever they take on the care and feeding of a grandchild, whether for an hour, a day, a week, or longer.

Few things can tug at the heartstrings of an adult more than a child suffering from injury or illness, especially when you talk about your own children or grandchildren. In the old days, a grandparent could take a grandchild to the doctor without too much concern about the appropriate paperwork. In today’s very litigious society, most providers restrict the care they provide to emergency situations and then usually only to stabilize the situation until and unless the parent or legal guardian signs off on the treatment and, of course, accepts financial responsibility for the bill.

Unless the grandparent has a court order appointing them as the child’s guardian, the hospital or other medical facility will likely not want to go further in treating the child just because grandma or grandpa says to do so, even if the grandparents accept financial responsibility for the bill. Moreover, unless the grandparents have the appropriate information, treating the child can create risks for the provider lacking a full medical history. We solve this problem by gathering information from the child’s parents and also by obtaining a medical consent and authorization form or power of attorney from the parents authorizing the grandparents to obtain medical treatment for the grandchild.

First, let’s talk about the information you need. You should, at a minimum, have the following information in written form:

  1. The child’s full legal name.
  2. The child’s birth date.
  3. The names of the child’s parents.
  4. Home, work, and mobile telephone numbers of parents.
  5. The child’s address.
  6. Any medical conditions, including food and drug allergies, the child has.
  7. All medications the child uses.
  8. The name of the child’s regular doctor(s).
  9. Any preference for hospitals.
  10. The child’s blood type.
  11. The preferred pharmacy.
  12. Insurance information (including the name of the carrier, the policy number, group, and individual identification number (if applicable)).
  13. Vaccination information (what vaccinations and when).
  14. Date of the child’s last tetanus shot.
  15. Religious preference (if applicable).

While the grandparent may know some or all of this information, you expedite the conveyance of the information to the provider by handing them a form with all the information on it. If you have a sick or injured grandchild, you want to handle the conveyance of the information as expeditiously as possible. Additionally, as we age, we sometimes have memory lapses and do not want to risk forgetting something important in the pressure of the emergency.

In addition to the medical information, you should have a signed authorization or power of attorney from the parents authorizing you to obtain and consent to medical treatment for your grandchild. In the best of situations, the information listed above gets physically attached to the authorization or power of attorney as an exhibit and gets specifically approved by the parent as accurate by a reference to the attachment in the authorization or power of attorney. If the parents, for religious or other reasons, want to impose limits on what type of medical treatments the child receives, include them in the authorization or power of attorney.

The rules respecting authorization for medical treatment and medical choices may differ among the states. Accordingly, you should confirm whether the state you live in, the state in which you care for the child, and any state you may take the child to in your travels have the same or different requirements. You can likely avoid the need for having multiple forms by complying with the most restrictive requirements. Whether the state requires a formal power of attorney or a simply written authorization, you should at least have two independent witnesses to the parent’s signature (do not serve as a witness to a form authorizing you). Having the signature of the parent notarized offers an even better option. Under any circumstance, the form needs to contain the following information:   

  1. The full name of the child.
  2. The child’s address.
  3. The full name of the parents.
  4. A statement specifically naming the grandparents and granting the grandparents the authority to obtain any medical treatment necessary or advisable for the child and to consent to the treatment.
  5. A reference to the attached sheet of medical and personal information about the child (see above) and an acknowledgment of its correctness.
  6. A starting and ending date for the authorization.

While an open-ended form may seem more convenient, some states may not accept that and, additionally, having a reasonable termination date requires that the parents review and update the form each time you replace it with a new one. That way you decrease the likelihood of providing outdated information to a medical care provider. The requirements in the states may vary, but conservatively speaking, you probably should not use a term of longer than 6 months.

The specific language of authorization required may also vary among the states, so you should check for the requirements of states relevant to you. In the absence of any specific language requirements, the following should suffice:

         “I (name of parent or legal guardian) the parent/legal guardian of (name of minor child), a minor child, grant to (name of grandparent(s)), the grandparent(s) of (name of minor child) the authority to authorize, order, and consent to any and all medical treatment that (name of minor child) may require. Any such consent or authorization by (name of grandparent(s)) shall have the same force and effect as if I consented to it myself. I hereby consent to medical treatment, including the administration of anesthesia, determined by a physician as necessary to the health or well-being of (name of minor child) while (name of minor child) is in the care of (name of grandparent(s)) and I am not readily available in person or by telephone to personally consent and (name of grandparent(s)) consents to and authorizes such treatment. This authorization and consent shall be effective from May 1, 2021 through October 31, 2021. Exhibit 1 annexed to this authorization contains personal and medical information concerning (name of minor child) which I certify as accurate.”

If you need a power of attorney, change the language appropriately. In addition to any language required for a power of attorney in your state, reference the document as a Power of Attorney and not an authorization and specifically state that the parent grants the grandparent the power of attorney to act as and on behalf of the parent in authorizing and consenting to medical treatment for the grandchild.

To state the obvious, you should have a form for each of your grandchildren. It is possible that you could combine them, but that may not prove the best way to go. To ensure that nobody gets confused about the medical history, I like the idea of keeping the forms completely separate.

Speaking of authorization forms: In the best of worlds, you will also have a written authorization form empowering you to take your grandchild out of the state or out of the country should you ever do that. Having that form may not prove necessary in many cases, but it could save a lot of time and aggravation. Don’t leave home with your grandchildren in tow without it.

You should keep the forms in a safe place where you can access them quickly in an emergency situation. In fact, you should carry them with you whenever you have your grandchildren without a parent present. As an added precaution, you should probably take a picture of the forms and store them in your mobile phone, just in case you cannot find the hard copy when you need it. As an aside, I have taken to storing copies of all my important documents on my phone including my own health care power of attorney, health care powers for family members, my drivers’ license, insurance information for medical and automobile coverage, my passport, and any visas I may need for international travel. Your phone can prove an important repository for critical information and often people will accept a copy which you can show them on your phone or email to them from your phone.


Jeffrey M. Allen

Principal, Graves & Allen

Jeffrey M. Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the ABA, the California State Bar Association, and the Alameda County Bar Association. He is a co-author of the ABA books Technology Tips for SeniorsTechnology Tips for Seniors Volume 2.0Technology Solutions for Today's Lawyer and Technology Tips for Lawyers and Other Business Professionals.