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What is a Legal Guardian?

A legal guardian refers to a person who has been named by a court or other similar governing body to care for another person. The person who is entrusted to the guardian’s care may also sometimes be referred to as a ward. Guardians could be entitled to oversee the property and personal interests of a child, disabled person or vulnerable adult.

Why Would Someone Give Up Guardianship?

There are many reasons why a parent or other adult would opt to voluntarily end their custodial or guardianship rights. They may be experiencing difficulties with drug or alcohol addiction, or could have been sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence, for example. Others may simply no longer be able to meet the physical, financial or mental requirements of being a guardian. Once a particular guardian is retired or disabled, it could make guardianship difficult.

A guardian must file a court petition if they want to have their guardianship changed or terminated. The court will review the petition. They may ask for the reasons why the request was made and whether the petitioner can reasonably continue to provide the ward with the support that they need.

How Can Someone Become a Legal Guardian?

A person will typically have to be appointed by a court before they can be a person’s legal guardian. They may petition the court or other entity to request guardianship of a particular individual. Potential guardians are required to watch a video orientation program before being named as a legal guardian. The training is also available as a class that can be attended either online or in person.

One parent may be appointed the legal custody of a child during a custody hearing or divorce proceedings. That person will usually also be named as the physical custodian of that child in many instances. The other parent may still play an active role in the child’s life, and could be awarded alimony, child support and child visitation privileges as the court deems necessary.

What Are a Legal Guardian’s Responsibilities?

Legal guardians are typically responsible for the following for a minor child:

  1. Taking the child to school.
  2. Ensuring that the child goes to school on each day that classes are scheduled, unless the child is ill, there is a death in the family or there is a planned absence that the school has already been informed of.
  3. Taking the child to medical appointments.
  4. Providing housing for the child.
  5. Providing adequate nutrition for the child.
  6. Allowing the child to engage in social activities with friends, neighbors, relatives, etc.
  7. Reporting to the court that all mandatory guardianship-related expenses were paid as needed.
  8. Ensuring that the child has regular dental, health and vision checkups as needed and that any urgent medical care is provided in a timely manner.
  9. Properly recording all expenses associated with care for the child.

If the guardian is taking care of a vulnerable or disabled adult, they are generally responsible for:

  1. Filing and preparing that person’s income taxes.
  2. Investing the ward’s financial assets as needed.
  3. Making legal decisions on the ward’s behalf.
  4. Paying for companion care using the ward’s funds.
  5. Keeping records of all expenses.
  6. Using the ward’s funds to pay for their food.
  7. Making sure that the ward attends medical appointments and using the ward’s funds to pay for any out-of-pocket medical expenses that are incurred.
  8. Paying the ward’s taxes.
  9. Court reporting that can confirm that required expenses were properly paid.

A guardian should keep good financial records. Those records may be reviewed by the court as needed. It’s important to not co-mingle funds. All personal funds and money used for the ward’s expenses should be maintained in separate accounts.

How Long Do I Have to be a Legal Guardian?

The amount of time that a person needs to spend as a legal guardian for a certain child or adult can vary depending on the situation. A person may be granted temporary or indefinite guardianship of a person. Temporary guardianship may be assigned for anywhere from 60 days to 6 months on average. The court will review the guardian’s duties on a regular basis. This may happen semi-annually or annually as needed.

If the court decides that the guardian has not fulfilled their required duties as a guardian, they may either look to appoint another guardian or remove the current guardian. The best interests of the ward will be taken into consideration before any decisions are made. If the guardian was responsible for a child who is now of legal age, the guardianship would effectively end once that child turns 18 years old. The guardian will need to provide the court with a copy of the child’s birth certificate, a proposed order and petition to end guardianship and the last accounting records up through the period in which the child turned 18.

There may be certain cases in which a person is named as the guardian of a child who has emigrated to the United States. In some of those situations, the guardianship won’t end until the child in question has turned 21 years of age. The court will need a copy of the child’s birth certificate and a petition to terminate guardianship if the guardian wants those responsibilities to cease.

Guardianship can end once the disabled person who was in a person’s care has passed away. The guardian will need to inform the respective local Trust Office that the person has died. They may be asked to supply a copy of the death certificate, a proposed order and petition to terminate guardianship and the final accounting records for the ward. Those records must have the last distribution of any financial assets from the ward’s estate through the last accounting period. Those records may be prepared by the guardian or their accountant or financial consultant.

If you have questions about becoming a guardian or ending a court-ordered guardianship, we have answers. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation. We’ll sit down with you and listen to what you have to say. We can provide valuable advice and even represent you in court if you want. Guardianship is a huge responsibility that not everyone can handle. If you have an open mind and a willingness to help someone in need, it can be a very rewarding experience that you’ll be sure to cherish for many years to come.