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If you’ve kept up with the news as of late, especially in the sports world, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the legal battle playing out between former NFL Offensive Lineman Michael Oher and the Tuohy family, the subjects of the hit 2009 sports drama, The Blind Side. If you need a refresher on the situation, here are the basics:

Earlier this month, news broke that Oher had filed a lawsuit claiming that the Tuohy’s had never actually adopted him as depicted in the film, but instead created a conservatorship (also known as a “guardianship”) over Oher that allowed them to make business deals in his name. This allegedly allowed the Tuohy’s to profit off Oher’s story to the tune of millions of dollars, while Oher himself got nothing.

Beyond tarnishing the image of a once-beloved Hollywood story, Oher’s lawsuit has thrust the topic of conservatorships back into public discourse, similarly to the Britney Spears saga of 2021, and has left many with questions:

What exactly is a guardianship? Are there different types? How is it different from an adoption? We’ll answer all of these, and more, in the sections below.

Understanding Guardianships

As mentioned earlier, while conservatorships do exist in the state of Maryland, they’re primarily referred to as “guardianships.” At the basic level, guardianship is a legal arrangement in which a court appoints an individual or an entity (the “legal guardian” or “conservator”) to make decisions on behalf of someone (commonly referred to as the “ward”) who is unable to manage their own affairs, whether because they’re a minor or a legally defined “disabled person.”

Usually, the legal guardian is going to be a family member or close friend of the ward, though a public guardian or financial institution may be granted guardianship in certain situations. For adults, a guardianship is typically put in place when a ward is incapacitated due to factors such as illness, mental health issues, physical disabilities, or age.

The main objective of a guardianship is to ensure that the ward’s financial, medical, and personal needs are responsibly met and seen to with their best interests in mind. As such, Maryland’s guardianship system emphasizes accountability and transparency, requiring guardians to provide the court with regular reports detailing the ward’s financial and personal status.

Types of Guardianship

In Maryland, there are two primary types of guardianship:

  • Conservator of the Person: This type of conservatorship grants the appointed conservator the authority to make decisions related to the ward’s daily personal care, living arrangements, medical treatment, and overall well-being.
  • Conservator of the Property: A conservator of the property is responsible for managing the ward’s financial matters, including handling assets, paying bills, managing investments, and making financial decisions.

In some cases, a court may appoint a single guardian to manage a ward’s personal and financial affairs, in which case their guardianship would be referred to as “Guardian of the Person and Property” or “Full Guardianship.”

Lastly, there are certain scenarios (usually emergencies) where a person may be granted “temporary guardianship” over a ward. This typically ends after a specific date set by the court, whereas standard guardianship is usually indefinite.

Initiating the Guardianship Process

The process of establishing guardianship in Maryland begins with filing a petition with the Circuit Court in the jurisdiction where the potential ward resides. The court will review the petition and gather evidence to determine whether the individual indeed requires guardianship due to their inability to manage their affairs. This evidence may include medical reports, assessments, and statements from family members or other concerned parties.

Benefits of Guardianship

While establishing guardianship can be a lengthy, complicated, and stressful process, guardianships offer many vital benefits for the ward:

  • Protection: It safeguards vulnerable individuals from potential abuse, financial exploitation, or neglect.
  • Peace of Mind: Family members can rest assured that their loved ones are receiving the care and support they need.
  • Structured Decision-Making: Guardianship ensures that decisions are made systematically, even when the ward is incapable of making choices themselves.
  • Expertise: Professional conservators, when granted by the court, bring specialized knowledge to the table, ensuring effective management of financial and personal affairs.

Guardianship vs. Adoption: What’s the difference

On the surface, guardianships and adoptions are very similar, but there are a couple vital differences in their structure and responsibility:

  • Parental Status: While a guardianship may require a guardian to take on many of the responsibilities of a parent, it only formally establishes a “legal relationship” between the guardian and ward. In adoption cases, the adopter becomes the legal parent of the adoptee, and thus any legal relationship between the child and their biological parents is terminated.
  • Permanence: While guardianship can be granted indefinitely, there is always the option to terminate (or renew) guardianship in court. Adoption, however, establishes a permanent legal relationship between the parent and child, one that cannot be terminated at a later time.

Though we’ve covered a lot in the sections above, this is only scratching the surface of guardianship and adoption in Maryland. There are many factors that can impact the length and complexity of a guardianship case, and obtaining guardianship can prove an emotionally taxing affair to say the least.

Luckily, that’s where we come in. If you or a loved one have questions about guardianship and adoption, or are dealing with an active case, click here or give us a call at (888) JCLAW-10 for your free legal consultation with one of JC Law’s experienced family law attorneys.