The term “legal guardian” refers to a person who has been appointed by a court to care for another person and make decisions on their behalf. A legal guardian essentially assumes legal responsibility over another person when a court determines that they cannot make legal decisions for themselves. The person appointed as another person’s legal guardian has been granted the legal authority to care for their ward’s personal interests, as well as property.

Some examples of the decisions a legal guardian may make on behalf of their ward include but may not be limited to:

  • Medical decisions, such as whether to pursue a specific treatment option;
  • Financial decisions, such as whether to invest the ward’s money;
  • Contract agreements, such as signing a rental agreement for a home; and
  • Other legally binding statements.

A legal guardianship arrangement is typically utilized for incapacitated senior citizens, developmentally disabled adults, and minor children. Guardianships are regulated by guardianship laws, which dictate who can become a legal guardian and the manner in which the guardianship is to be executed.

Who Can Be a Legal Guardian?

Legal guardians for minor children are the most common form of legal guardianship. The guardian acts as the child’s primary caretaker, and may be personally selected by the child’s biological parents. In general, a court will choose who is to be a ward’s legal guardian by adhering to guardianship laws. Some examples of criteria that a court will consider when appointing a legal guardian can include:

  • The personal relationship between the ward and the guardian;
  • Any unique needs the ward may have;
  • The ward’s opinion as to who should act as their guardian, if they are capable of expressing a preference;
  • The ability of the proposed guardian to understand as well as meet the ward’s needs; and
  • The amount of time a guardianship will be necessary.

In general, a court will appoint one of the following as the ward’s legal guardian:

  • Close family relatives, such as grandparents, aunts, and uncles;
  • Family friends and acquaintances; and
  • People specifically chosen to act as the ward’s guardian.

The legal guardian must be physically, mentally, and financially able to perform all duties assigned to them as a legal guardian. Additionally, they must have a good record of conduct, and must not be financially motivated to be a guardian.

Are There Different Types of Guardianships?

There are several different types of guardianship arrangements, which may vary by state. Some guardianships grant full decision making power, while others limit the guardian to only making medical or financial decisions. There are many circumstances in which a legal guardianship is not a permanent fixture.

Some of the most common types of guardianship arrangements include:

  • Full Guardianships: The guardian has full decision making power on behalf of their ward. These are generally granted in cases in which the ward is unable to make any of their own decisions regarding health care, finances, and other personal decisions;
  • Limited Guardianships: A limited guardianship is generally granted when the ward can make some of their own decisions, especially concerning their personal care. However, they may still need assistance making more complex decisions;
  • Co-Guardianships: A ward is granted two separate guardians in order to prevent an abuse of power;
  • Temporary Guardianship: Guardianship is appointed when the ward is facing an emergency situation, or is temporarily unable to make their own decisions. The guardian holds their position until the circumstances requiring a guardian have cured themselves; and
  • Guardian ad Litem: A guardian ad litem is a guardian appointed by the court to represent the ward during legal proceedings. They are generally appointed in any cases that may affect a child’s rights.

Some legal guardianship arrangements are designed to be temporary from the start. An example of this would be if a child’s biological parents request a temporary guardianship, or if there is a pressing emergency. At any point during a guardianship, the ward may petition the court to end the guardianship if they feel that having a guardian is no longer necessary.

Do I Need an Attorney for Assistance With a Legal Guardianship?

Being a legal guardian is a major responsibility, and requires not only court approval but also court supervision. There are a number of responsibilities and duties that a legal guardian has to their ward. Legal guardians, especially when the ward is a child, are generally fulfilling duties similar to those of a parent. As such, legal guardianships are a serious matter.

If you need help becoming a legal guardian, or obtaining a legal guardian, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable family law attorney. An experienced family law attorney can educate you in regards to your state’s specific guardianship laws, as well as your rights and responsibilities. Additionally, they can also help you understand the guardianship process while ensuring that the ward’s best interests are being considered above all else. Finally, an attorney can represent you in court as needed.