In cases where a person is unable to make legal and personal decisions because of age or incapacity, a legal guardian may be assigned to administer care and estate management. Guardianship laws legislate the process for creating and terminating guardianship, as well as detailing the rights, responsibilities, and qualifications a legal guardian must possess in order to maintain guardianship. Guardianship laws may differ regionally, and may also have several different sets of procedures depending on the ward's status.
Some guardianship laws handle the qualifications a guardian must fulfill in order to be named a legal guardian. In many areas, a guardian must be an adult in good legal standing, who is believed capable of acting in the ward's best interests. Though guardianship laws may not mandate exact requirements, guardians must generally not have a violent criminal record and be of sound health. In minor guardianship, where the guardian will need to financially provide for a child, income or housing requirements may be outlined in guardianship laws, or left to the court's discretion.
Guardianship laws may also outline the legal process by which a person is made a guardian. Though a person may request a certain guardian, or a parent may name a guardian for his or her children in a will, it is ultimately up to a court to choose to honor those wishes. In cases of disabled adults, parents or the ward may file a petition to name a guardian to handle personal care or estate management. In a contested divorce or in the case of alleged child abuse, the court may appoint a specific type of guardian, called a guardian ad litem, to represent the legal interests of the child or children. A guardian ad litem is usually a lawyer or social worker, and is not usually required to provide care for the children in question.
In some regions, guardianship laws may outline the different types of guardianship and the authority granted to each position. A guardian of the property may only have authority over a ward's estate, while a guardian of the person may hold authority over personal matters, such as care and medical issues. General guardians may hold both estate and personal authority. Choosing a guardian through a legal petition results in a voluntary guardianship, while a court choosing a guardian for an incapacitated person creates an involuntary guardianship.
One other provision in guardianship laws may outline the required legal behavior of the guardian. In many cases, a guardian must be able to prove that he or she is acting in the best interest of the ward, and is not financially profiting from running a ward's estate. In some regions, guardians may be required to submit annual reports to the court, detailing their actions on the ward's behalf.