A guardianship is a court supervised legal relationship established for the benefit and protection of another, called the "ward." When appointed, legal guardians are responsible for the ward’s personal and property interests. Guardianships are generally for children whose parents can no longer take care of them, or for persons over eighteen years old who are declared mentally or physically incapacitated.

What a Guardianship Lawyers Do?

A guardianship lawyer helps those who are trying to become a guardian. No matter what kind of guardianship, they will make sure that the petitioner (the person applying to be a guardian) has the right paperwork and fulfills the court’s qualifications. This includes showing up on important court dates, advocate on behalf of the petitioner to the court, and ultimately help the petitioner reach their goal of guardianship.

Types of Guardianships

  • Limited guardianship – Sometimes the court may decide that the ward is capable of making some decisions regarding their own care but not others. For decisions where the individual may be unable to exercise sound judgment, a court will sometimes appoint a limited guardian or a guardian advocate to assist in the decision-making process.
  • Co-guardianship - Co-guardianship is when two guardians are appointed to protect the best interests of the ward. This often serves as added protection over the ward's interests by ensuring that neither guardian abuses their powers.
  • Guardian of property - A guardian of property is primarily concerned with providing or managing sufficient monetary resources to care for the ward.
  • Guardian ad litem - A guardian ad litem is appointed by the Court to protect and manage the ward's interests in any legal proceedings that directly affect them.

When Does a Guardianship End?

A guardianship ordinarily lasts until one of these events occurs:

  • The child reaches legal age (usually 18 years old)
  • The ward dies
  • The ward's assets are used up (if the guardianship was set up solely to handle the ward's finances), or
  • A judge determines that a guardianship is no longer necessary
  • The guardian petitions the court to resign
  • The ward’s biological parents successfully petition the court to end the guardianship

What Is a Conservatorship?

There are two types of conservatorships: conservator of the estate and conservator of the person. A conservator of the estate (also called a "guardian of property", "custodian" or "curator" in some states) is someone who has the court-ordered authority and responsibility to manage another adult's finances. In contrast, a conservator of the person is given the power to make medical and living arrangement decisions for another adult. Most often, conservatorships are established for people who are in comas, suffer from advanced Alzheimer's disease or have other serious illnesses or injuries.

The Process for Obtaining a Guardianship or Conservatorship

Anyone interested in the well-being of the incapacitated person can initiate the guardianship or conservatorship process. Here are some things to keep in mind when you're considering petitioning for guardianship or conservatorship:

  • A Petition for Appointment of Guardian of the Person must be filed in the probate court of the ward’s county of residence. The required forms are usually available through the local clerk of courts or on the court website.
  • Some states require notice of the proceedings to be sent to certain people, relatives and agencies.
  • The ward is usually entitled to legal representation at the hearing. The court can appoint an attorney if the ward cannot afford one.
  • The judge will hear from all interested parties and decide whether to grant a court order establishing the guardianship.
  • The court order must be filed with the clerk of courts.

Who can Serve as a Guardian or Conservator?

To determine who can be a guardian or conservator the court will look at factors such as:

  • Who plays a significant role in the ward's life.
  • Who is sensitive to the needs and preferences of the ward.
  • Whether the ward's family supports the court's choice.

Do I Need a Family Lawyer?

An attorney is usually necessary to petition a court for the establishment of a guardianship or conservatorship. Speaking with an experienced family lawyer will enable you to understand the complicated legal procedure and help to protect the best interests of all those affected.