How Do I Become a Court-Appointed Guardian?

Ray Hawk

The process to become a court-appointed guardian can vary considerably depending on several factors, including the type of guardianship, the status of the person for whom its being approved, and the state one resides in. Guardianship is possible for medical, financial, and legal reasons both for adults that are incapacitated in some manner and for children. It's also possible that a guardianship can be appointed on a temporary or emergency basis. In the context where someone is to become a court-appointed guardian for an adult who retains his or her ability to make some sound decisions, often that adult must approve and renew the guardianship periodically by his or her signature for it to remain valid.

A guardian may be appointed by the courts to make medical and financial decisions for children.
A guardian may be appointed by the courts to make medical and financial decisions for children.

One of the first steps on the path to become a court-appointed guardian is to either consult an attorney for legal advice, or visit the local family court at the county courthouse in which the person for whom the guardianship will be approved resides. The courthouse will have all of the available forms for the various types of guardianship that exist, and this will provide a good understanding of the difficulty of the process at a local level. The authority of a guardian can vary from state to state, especially in regard to making decisions for medical treatments, and court supervision of the guardian.

The role of a court-appointed guardian can be difficult to define in cases involving children.
The role of a court-appointed guardian can be difficult to define in cases involving children.

Before a guardianship is approved, the court must determine that the person or ward it is being approved for is legally incapacitated in some manner. This can be a process that takes more than a month, and can be especially contentious if the guardianship is for an adult that is resisting the process. Financial guardians must be given access to the ward's assets to make sure that bills are paid on time, and medical guardians often do not have final authority over the administration of medical treatments if the ward refuses them. Guardianship may facilitate the proper care of an individual, but partially incapacitated wards still retain certain individual rights that the guardianship does not overrule.

Anyone who decides to become a court-appointed guardian in the traditional sense is assuming full responsibility for an individual's care. This includes providing food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and looking out for all the best interests of the ward, even if the ward's own assets are being used to pay for this care. This responsibility extends to seeing that the ward is made aware of beneficial government programs, to proper responsible management of the ward's assets, and other such issues.

A conservator can be appointed by the court to manage a ward's financial affairs if the guardian does not wish to do so, but otherwise the guardian must file annual reports with the court detailing every aspect of the ward's care. As of 2011, if the ward's assets exceed $50,000 US Dollars (USD), this filing with the court must be a full, formal accounting of those assets, which an attorney or accounting firm may need to be retained to perform. Furthermore, once a guardian is appointed by the court, he or she cannot resign the position until a formal discharge is officially approved by the court.

Since the process to become a court-appointed guardian, whether as a child guardian, legal guardian, or medical guardian, can be a complex endeavor, it is often better to instead seek power of attorney for asset management or medical decisions. Power of attorney gives more say to the person's individual wishes and requires less involvement by the courts. Some states also offer limited guardianship options, where the ward, for instance, may live on his or her own and manage his or her own finances, but medical decisions are made by the guardian.

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