Before discussing what a guardianship letter is and what can be included in them, you should have a basic understanding of what a guardianship is first.
In general, a guardianship is a type of legally enforceable relationship that occurs when one party (called the “guardian”) assumes the legal responsibility to care for and protect another party (known as the “ward”).
Legal guardianships can be created for both children and minors. They also can be established for an adult under certain circumstances, such as when they are either mentally or physically incompetent, or if they become incapacitated for some other reason.
What is a Guardianship Letter?
A guardianship letter is a type of legal document that allows a person to hand over their guardianship rights to a different party. In most cases, this occurs when the parent of an underage child needs to transfer guardianship of the child temporarily to another person, resulting in a temporary guardianship. This might be necessary for a variety of reasons, such as the following:
- If the original parent or guardian will be physically absent for a short period of time, like for instance if the parent or guardian is going on a vacation or taking a business trip;
- When the original guardian has become temporarily incapacitated or is no longer able to care for the ward for some reason; and
- If the guardian is in jail or in a similar unreachable situation where they will not be able to care for the child.
Although guardianship letters generally need to be approved by a court, guardianship arrangements that are more permanent in nature absolutely require additional court intervention and court approval will be necessary for such scenarios.
One final thing to know about guardianship letters is that they are not recognized by all states and many states have separate requirements. For instance, some states only permit guardianship agreements, which are more formalized documents.
Other states may allow guardianship letters, but their laws might specify a particular time frame to draft them in before they are considered effective (e.g., the letter must be written 6 months prior before it goes into effect).
What Should be Included in a Guardianship Letter?
It is very important that the guardianship letter be carefully drafted, with much attention being paid to the terms and details of the arrangement. A well-written guardianship letter should include critical information, such as:
- The names and contact information of all the parties involved, which typically includes the ward, the prior guardian, and the new guardian or guardians;
- Trigger dates, such as when the new guardianship arrangement should begin and when the arrangement should be terminated;
- Any supplemental conditions that should be followed in regard to ending the parties’ guardianship arrangement;
- The range or scope of the duties, rights, and authority that the guardian is permitted to exercise;
- If there are any special instructions regarding the well-being of the ward, such as medical care, dietary restrictions or guidelines, and other similar issues; and
- Whether or not the guardianship rights can be further transferred to another party.
Lastly, in order for the guardianship letter to be considered as legally enforceable, it must be notarized or approved by a representative who has court authority.
How Can I Avoid a Dispute over a Guardianship Letter?
One of the more common types of disputes that occurs with guardianship letters has to do with the issue of the scope of a guardian’s authority. These instructions should be clearly defined in the letter. For instance, the document should indicate details, such as whether or not the guardian can make medical decisions on behalf of the ward.
Additionally, all details should be worked out between the parties prior to signing it since violations of the letter can lead to legal action or a lawsuit. This is especially true when the violation has caused damages to the ward or to a previous guardian.
Finally, disputes over a guardianship letter can be avoided by acting cautiously and thoughtfully throughout the drafting and editing process. The more details that are included in the letter, the less likely it will be that a misrepresentation or dispute will arise in the future. This is where hiring a lawyer can come in handy for a party to the guardianship letter.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with a Guardianship Letter?
Guardianship letters often contain a large amount of detailed information. You may want to consider hiring a family law attorney if you need assistance with creating a guardianship letter or if you have any further questions about them.
An experienced family law attorney will be able to help you draft, edit, review, and submit the letter to the court for approval. A lawyer can also represent you in court during any related meetings or hearings if a conflict or dispute arises over a guardianship issue.