Before you meet with a guardianship lawyer, you should prepare for your appointment. In order to understand your claim, the lawyer will need accurate and detailed information. While every lawyer has his or her own interview process, this is a list of common questions.
Where Do You and the Child or Adult with Disabilities Live?
Different laws and procedures will apply, depending on where you and the child or incapacitated adult live. Guardianship is a statutory process and state laws typically apply. If you do not comply with the correct laws, your guardianship may not be approved.
Why Is a Guardianship Necessary?
Sometimes, a child or adult with disabilities (called a “ward”) needs a guardian to protect them. In these situations, be prepared to discuss your concerns and the details of the situation. The guardianship lawyer will need to understand the parent’s fitness to care for their child. The lawyer will need to know whether the parents have abandoned their child or have lost parental rights. If you are seeking guardianship of an adult, be prepared to discuss the adult’s incapacity and medical conditions. Bring any evidence you have that documents your concerns.
Other times, a guardianship may be part of a family’s estate planning. In these circumstances, you are not petitioning for immediate guardianship. Instead, you are designating a guardian through a will or durable power of attorney. The guardian will only step in if you become incapacitated or cannot care for your child.
What Is Your Relationship to the Child or Disabled Adult?
Most courts prefer to appoint a relative as a legal guardian. The guardianship lawyer will want to understand the extent and depth of your relationship with your potential ward. This is particularly true if you are seeking guardianship of an older child or disabled adult. (In these cases, the court may consider the child or adult’s wishes as a factor.)
Are You Ready to Take on the Responsibilities of Guardianship?
Guardianship is a serious responsibility. You must care for your ward’s financial and emotional needs. This can be a time-intensive and emotionally difficult task. Before you are appointed as a guardian, you typically must confirm your willingness to handle these duties honestly and fairly. The lawyer may have questions about your family, work schedule, and financial stability.
What Is in the Ward’s Best Interest?
When you file a petition for guardianship, the courts must determine what arrangement is in the ward’s best interests. This assessment typically involves a series of factors, including:
- Your age (typically, you must be at least 18 years old),
- The physical and mental health of the parties involved,
- Your willingness and ability to adequately parent or care for your ward,
- Your moral character (including your criminal history),
- The ward’s emotional, developmental, and material needs,
- The stability of your home environment,
- The ward’s connection to his or her home, school, and community,
- The importance of other familial relationships, and
- The circumstances leading to your petition (such as concern about abuse or neglect).
The lawyer will need a detailed and accurate understanding of these (and other) factors.
Will Anyone Contest Your Petition for Guardianship?
Simply filing a petition for guardianship does not guarantee its approval. Other parties (including the ward’s parents or other family members) may dispute your request. If you anticipate a guardianship dispute, advise the lawyer immediately. If you have any information about the anticipated dispute (including information that a different guardian would be unsuitable), bring it to the appointment.
What Should I Bring to a Meeting with a Guardianship Lawyer?
Again, it is important to bring any evidence you have to your appointment. This information will help the lawyer evaluate your claim and provide accurate advice. The lawyer may want to see:
- The child’s birth certificate,
- An existing will or durable power of attorney,
- Medical records documenting an adult’s disability,
- Criminal justice and protective services records,
- Other information about the ward’s safety and welfare, and
- Information about the parents’ ability and willingness to parent.
This information will help the lawyer evaluate and understand your guardianship claim.
Where Can You Find the Right Lawyer?
Hiring a lawyer is an important decision. For many people, guardianships are too complicated to handle without a family law attorney. A local family law lawyer can help you understand your rights, comply with state laws, and present the best possible case to the judge.