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Guardianship 101


A guardianship is a legal arrangement in which an adult (called a "guardian" or "conservator") is given authority by a court to make personal and/or financial decisions on behalf of another person. A guardian may be given complete or only partial power over the person's affairs.

If you face becoming disabled, asking the court to appoint a guardian is one way to assure your financial and other matters are taken care of. For additional alternatives, see: Incapacitations: Providing In Case. If you make no arrangements, a court will appoint a guardian to manage your affairs.

If you have children, you can ask that a guardian be appointed now to take care of your children's affairs.

A guardianship for yourself

Appointing a guardian is one method of assuring that the best person to take care of you and your finances is in place if you become incapacitated. While the decision about who to appoint is up to a judge, your wishes will be generally be respected unless there is a valid reason not to do so.

The main advantage of a court appointed guardian over an alternative such as using a durable power of attorney is that the guardian will be supervised by an independent judge. Also, when attempting to do a transaction, the authority of a guardian is less likely to be questioned than that of a person holding a power of attorney, which means that transactions are more likely to happen on a timely basis.

When thinking about the person to choose as your guardian, it is advisable to choose a competent person who understands your wishes and shares your values -- or at least will respect and honor them.

You can choose a personal guardian and a financial guardian, or one person can take on both roles just like you do. For information, see: How To Choose A Guardian For Yourself (The article also includes what to talk about with a prospective guardian.)

Open communication with your potential guardian is essential to be sure your wishes are carried out.

A guardian for your children

Usually, a child's other parent will become guardian if you can't take care of your child either temporarily or permanently. This may be exactly what you want. If it's not, or if the other parent is deceased, one way to take care of your children is to have a guardian appointed.  You can ask the court to do it now or you can name a guardian in your Will.

It is advisable to name an alternate guardian in case your first choice can't serve, is not acceptable to the court, or stops serving for any reason.

When thinking about who to choose as guardian, keep in mind that each child has two very distinct needs: the personal aspects of your child's life and your child's finances. You can choose two guardians (one as a personal guardian and as a financial guardian), or one person can take on both roles, just like you do. For additional information about choosing a guardian for a child, click here

For more information about guardianship for children, click here.

Alternatives to consider for taking care of your children are Foster Care or Adoption.

While you're thinking about this subject, until a guardian is appointed or other arrangements are made, it is advisable to prepare a document which gives someone the authority to make emergency medical decisions for your children if you are unavailable or incapacitated.

A court appointed guardian

To learn about court appointed guardians, including how a judge determines whether a guradian is needed and who should be the guardian, click here. 

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