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Guardianship refers to the legal relationship that is created when a person is unable to make rational decisions about themselves or their possessions. This can include minors and mentally unsound adults.

Usually, a guardian will be a family member, close friend, local official, or anyone else suitable to take care of the individual in question. A guardian will be responsible for the individual’s welfare, personal/estate matters, and healthcare.

To become a legal guardian, it’s necessary to petition the proper court and complete the necessary legal documentation. The exact steps and papers that must be compiled vary depending on the state, so it’s important to check the state legislature.

Read on to learn about how guardianship works for both adults and children.

Guardianship of a Child

The guardian of a minor is responsible for their health and wellbeing. This includes food, clothing, shelter, medical care, safety, physical/emotional growth, and education, among other things.

When a guardian is not the child’s biological parent, this is referred to as a “probate guardianship”. This is required when a parent is no longer able to properly take care and maintain custody of their child.

Below are some of the most common reasons why a parent may need to appoint a guardian:

  • They are mentally or physically incapacitated
  • They struggle with alcohol/drug abuse or have to go to a rehab program
  • They are sentenced to a jail term
  • They have been abusive to the child
  • They have to move overseas for reasons such as joining the military

In the case that the child inherits or owns valuable property, it is also possible to set up guardianship of the minor’s estate when estate planning. This typically involves managing the child’s money, income, and property until they turn 18.

The guardianship of a child can be established by filing papers in the corresponding court. The person filing the petition must show interest in becoming the legal guardian, and pay all associated fees. They’ll also need to file a letter of consent from the parents of the child.

What Is the Difference Between Guardianship and Adoption?

It can be easy to confuse the guardianship of a child with adoption. Although both these types of legal relationships are similar in some ways, they are not the same. Below are the main differences between these two legal concepts:

Guardianship Adoption
Parental Rights The parents maintain parental rights to the child and can ask to be put in contact. The parent?s rights towards the child are permanently ended.
Ending the Relationship It can be ended by a court if the parents are once again able to take care of the child. The relationship between the adoptive parents and the child is permanent.
Court Supervision Guardians can be supervised by a legal court. Adoptive families are not supervised by a legal court.

Guardianship of an Adult

Guardianship is not limited to children, it can also be set up for adults that require someone else to make decisions and act on their behalf. In some states, this is known as a “conservatorship”.

This is often due to old age, illness, or other unexpected circumstances which have caused the individual (also known as a ward) to no longer be able to take care of their own affairs.

A guardian of an adult can be assigned by the court through an official order. They must file a petition and prove the potential ward’s incapacity in front of the proper court. If appointed, the guardian is authorized to make financial, legal, and medical decisions on the ward’s behalf.