Legal guardians are individuals who have been appointed by a court to care for another individual and to make decisions on their behalf. Legal guardians assume legal responsibility for another individual.

Legal guardians have been granted the legal authority to care for the personal and property interests of the other individual. Examples of decisions a legal guardian may be required to make on behalf of the ward, or the individual they are appointed to represent, may include:

  • Medical decisions;
  • Financial decisions;
  • Contract agreements; and
  • Other legally binding statements.

Legal guardianship is typically used for:

  • Incapacitated seniors;
  • Developmentally disabled adults; and
  • Minor children.

One of the most common forms of guardianship is a legal guardian for a minor. The legal guardian of a minor will act as the primary caretaker for the minor and may be personally selected by the biological parents of the minor as opposed to being appointed by a court.

A guardianship is regulated by guardianship laws that dictate who is permitted to become a legal guardian. These laws also regulate the manner how guardianship is to be carried out.

  • The personal relationship between the ward and the proposed guardian;
  • If the ward has any unique needs of the ward;
  • The ward’s opinion about who should be their guardian;
  • The proposed guardian’s ability to understand the ward and meet their needs; and
  • The length of time that a guardianship will be needed.

Are There Different Types of Guardianships?

Yes, there are different types of guardianships. With some guardianships, the guardian has full decision-making powers over the ward, while in other types, the guardian is limited to making medical or financial decisions.

The different types of guardianships which are available vary by state. The most common types, however, include:

  • Full guardianships;
  • Limited guardianships;
  • Co-guardianships;
  • Short term, or temporary guardianships; and
  • Guardian ad Litem.

A full guardianship provides the guardian with full decision-making powers on behalf of the ward. A full guardianship is typically granted in a case where the ward is unable to make any decisions, including:

  • Personal;
  • Healthcare; or
  • Financial.

A limited guardianship is granted by a court when the ward is capable of making some of their own decisions, especially those concerning their personal care. The ward may need assistance when making more complex decisions such as those which are related to:

  • Finances;
  • Healthcare; or
  • Life changes.

A co-guardianship is granted when a court appoints two guardians to the same individual. This will help prevent any abuse of power by either one of the guardians.

A short-term or temporary guardianship is granted by a court when the ward is facing an emergency situation or they are temporarily unable to make decisions on whether the guardian will hold their position until the circumstances which require a guardian are cured.

Guardian ad litems are appointed by the court to represent the interests of the ward during legal proceedings. Generally, guardian ad litems are appointed in any case which may affect the legal rights of a child.

What is a Guardian ad Litem?

Guardian ad litems are individuals who are trained to represent children or individuals who are disabled or incapacitated when they are involved in court proceedings. A guardian is an individual who works to serve or protect another, and ad litem means “for the lawsuit” in Latin.

Guardian ad litems advocate for the best interests of the child. A guardian ad litem is often appointed:

A guardian ad litem may also be appointed to represent the interests of children or disabled or incapacitated individuals during probate proceedings.

What Does a Guardian ad Litem Do?

A guardian ad litem works for the court. They conduct independent investigations and then make recommendations based on the best interests of the child.

A guardian ad litem will speak to several individuals during their investigation, including:

  • The child;
  • The child’s parents;
  • The child’s family members;
  • Teachers;
  • Social workers;
  • Counselors;
  • Caregivers; and
  • Friends.

The guardian ad litem’s focus is solely on what is in the best interest of the child, regardless of the interests and priorities of others. A guardian ad litem is routinely appointed in cases involving child neglect.

Guardian ad litems play an important role when determining issues including:

  • Whether the child should be removed from their parents’ home;
  • How often it would be beneficial for the child to visit with their parents;
  • Whether those visits should be supervised; and
  • Whether parental rights should be terminated.

If the child is removed from their home, the guardian ad litem can make recommendations regarding placement, which may include foster parents or other family members. Courts may also appoint a guardian ad litem in a divorce proceeding where there is a dispute over custody and visitation.

Similar to abuse and neglect cases, the guardian ad litem will make recommendations based upon the best interests of the child. The guardian ad litem will investigate to determine which parent should have primary custody of the child and what type of visitation will be most beneficial to the child.

During a probate proceeding, a guardian ad litem represents a child or disabled individual’s interests as a beneficiary of an estate. A guardian ad litem will also advocate on their behalf if necessary.

For example, if the will is contested and one of the beneficiaries is a child, the guardian ad litem may be appointed to protect the interests of the child as a beneficiary during the will contest proceedings.

Who Can Be a Guardian ad Litem?

In the majority of states, a guardian ad litem may be any adult who has completed the required training. In some states, a guardian ad litem must be an attorney.

The majority of guardian ad litems are paid, although the compensation varies. Some are paid by the hour for their court appearances and outside-of-court investigative work.

Other guardian ad litems are paid as salaried, full-time employees.

Do Guardians ad Litem Go To Court?

A guardian ad litem will prepare a written report after conducting their investigation and may also be called to testify in court. In a child abuse and neglect or dependency case, the court will hold periodic hearings to review:

  • The child’s placement;
  • The visitation schedule; and
  • Whether the parents are complying with any court-ordered:
    • counseling;
    • parenting classes; and/or
    • drug and alcohol treatment.

One of the individuals who will testify at the hearing is the guardian ad litem. They will share their written report with all of the parties involved prior to the hearing.

A guardian ad litem will meet with the several individuals before reporting to the court with their recommendations, including:

  • The child;
  • Parents;
  • Foster parents;
  • Social workers;
  • Teachers; and counselors.

The guardian ad litem will report on the well-being of the child and share their opinion regarding:

  • The child’s placement;
  • Visitation with their parents; and
  • Whether reunification with their parents is in the best interests of the child.

A guardian ad litem will also go to court when necessary during divorce proceedings in order to make a recommendation regarding child custody. The guardian ad litem will testify regarding the child’s living conditions and their well-being.

The guardian ad litem may include the child’s preferences as part of their report, but they are not under any obligation to do what the child desires.

Do I Need a Lawyer for my Guardian ad Litem Issue?

It is essential to have the assistance of a guardianship lawyer for any issues, questions, or concerns you may have related to a guardian ad litem issue. If the court has appointed a guardian ad litem for your child, especially if you have been accused of child abuse or neglect, it is essential to have an attorney because your parental rights may be in jeopardy.

If criminal charges have been filed against you, it is important to consult with a criminal lawyer as soon as possible. Any proceeding in which a guardian ad litem is appointed may be lengthy and complex.

Your attorney can advise you regarding the role of the guardian ad litem in your case, advise you regarding your rights, and represent you if you are required to appear in court.