What is a Standby Guardian?

Mary McMahon

A standby guardian is someone who can step in to act as a guardian to a child or person with disabilities who requires a guardian in the event that the original guardian or parent is unable to fulfill his or her duties. Standby guardians can take over in response to certain “trigger events” which activate their guardianship and they may also take on guardianship responsibilities by request from the parent or guardian. Not all regions allow for the creation of standby guardians and there are certain restrictions in place in others.

A standby guardian may be a friend or family member.
A standby guardian may be a friend or family member.

It is not uncommon, and entirely understandable, for parents and guardians to worry about what will happen to the people in their care in the event that a parent or guardian is incapacitated or killed, or encounters a situation which leaves him or her temporarily unable to act as a guardian. Designating a standby guardian allows a current guardian to select someone in advance to provide this care.

A standby guardian may be a friend or family member. Planning in advance allows the standby guardian to meet with the existing parent or guardian to discuss long term goals and wishes so that the standby guardian can provide appropriate care in the event that she or he needs to take over. In addition to being a guardian to a person, a standby guardian may also become the caretaker of an estate.

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In some regions, people can appoint a standby guardian at any time. Some legal paperwork needs to be filled out, and once it is finalized, the standby guardian can act at any time. The parent or legal guardian may temporarily assign guardianship, as for example if a parent travels out of the country and wants a child to have a legal guardian while he or she is gone, and guardianship can also be triggered by an event such as a car accident which leaves a legal guardian in a coma. The transition is seamless, thanks to the standby guardianship, and the person in need of a guardian does not end up in a legal limbo waiting for the court to appoint a guardian.

In other areas, people may only be able to designate a standby guardian if they can demonstrate that there is a legitimate reason to fear for the need of a guardian within a set period of time, such as two years. In locations where people cannot designate a standby guardian ahead of time, it is advisable to discuss guardianship preferences with friends and family members so that they know, even if a legal document cannot be filed to enforce those wishes.

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