The Basics of Guardianship

Guardianship is a legal tool that grants a parent or other adult the authority to make legal decisions for a child or legally disabled adult.

There are different types of guardianship:

  • Guardianship of Estate – where the guardian is responsible for financial and estate matters only
  • Guardianship of Person –  where the guardian is responsible for non-financial decision making
  • Plenary Guardianship of Person and Estate – which entails full guardianship of person and estate

Each type of guardianship can also be in the form of limited guardianship which means the court can choose to let an incapacitated person retain any rights he/she is capable of exercising on his/her own. There is also something called co-guardianship which can be of person, estate or both when two people share the decision making responsibility equally.

When is guardianship warranted?

  • Guardianship is warranted when a person is legally incapacitated, meaning they are at significant risk of personal harm to themself either nutritionally or physically, or they are incapable of managing their property or financial affairs.

What types of duties does a guardian have?

  • A guardian’s duties are often outlined by the courts. Generally, they include such things as financial management, decision making for health care and residential placement. A guardian should not be managing every aspect of a person’s life. A guardian is not a care provider.

Who can be a guardian?

  • In order to be a guardian, you must be 18 years or older, of sound mind and found to be suitable by the courts to perform the duties of a guardian.

Each state has its own set of laws with regard to guardianship. Educate yourself before taking any legal action. Speak with an elder law attorney, friends, family and your physician before deciding to take on legal guardianship of an elder, child or person with a disability.

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