Being a Guardian: Documents To Gather
Undertaking any type of guardianship (of the person) or of the property (often called a conservator) requires significant documentation. You will need to preserve some documents.
You should gather documents related to your assets (and your ward's assets) plus costs for an incapacitated person. Legal guardianship is complex because you are responsible for an incapacitated person.
Guardians work with the courts in their counties or states and often have to file reports, including annual reports, with the courts. Gathering, maintaining, and preserving documents as a guardian of the person is crucial to create a record of guardianship. Many of your decisions may need court approval. A strong record will help the court decide what is in the ward's best interests.
The following is an overview of guardianship documents you may have to keep and file with the courts. However, you might need other documentation depending on the situation and where you live.
Preserving All Guardianship Documents
Whether you're the guardian of an elderly relative, a minor child, or an incapacitated adult, you will make many decisions. These include legal decisions, financial decisions, and/or medical decisions for the ward. You are also responsible for the management and safety of that person's property and assets. You may also be responsible for their healthcare decisions, including mental health, and ensuring their legal rights are afforded. As their fiduciary, you must gather all documents relevant to managing these assets.
Think about your duties and which documents may contain information related to each duty, such as:
- Documents about medical care or medical treatment, including invoices, hospital bills, and insurance information
- Any notes or recommendations from healthcare providers or social workers
- Receipts identifying purchases of necessities such as food, clothes, cars, household items
- Invoices showing educational costs
- Investment and financial statements, especially those related to personal property of the ward
- Banking statements and check ledgers
- Documents related to any lawsuits the ward may be a party to and to any of the ward's property
- Wills, trusts, or any other documents for any inherited assets of the ward
- Documents showing ownership and valuation of property held by the guardianship estate
- Previous guardianship inventories, accountings, and appraisals prepared for the court
If there is a co-guardian, conservator, or anyone else involved in decision-making, they should seek legal advice in this process.
State Guardianship Laws
Legal guardians must follow the state's guardianship laws, which are usually in the state's probate code. You have many options for help, including the National Guardianship Association. This association may be able to provide general information about the documentation process.
If you live in the same state, you can contact the local county court and consult with the court clerk. The clerk can give you preliminary information. They can also guide you to the appropriate court, depending upon the type of guardianship. For example, in California, if you are the guardian of a minor, you may be subject to the rules of both the Probate Court and the Juvenile Court.
Many states have created their own guardianship help divisions, including the following states:
Utah provides online guardian training. You must also pass the Utah Guardian Pre-appointment Test before applying to be a guardian. You should consult the probate code of your state for specific requirements.
However, an experienced guardianship attorney can help you understand your legal responsibilities.
Making a Checklist of Documents
You may find the following checklist helpful in collecting needed documents.
_____ Power of Attorney
_____ Court order, appointing you as legal guardian
_____ Letters of Guardianship, if applicable
_____ Living Will
_____ Trust Documents
_____ Land Grants
_____ Water Rights
_____ Tax Notices
_____ Abstracts of Title
_____ Vehicle Titles
_____ Bank Statements
_____ Pass Books
_____ Checkbook Registers
_____ Mutual Fund Statements
_____ IRA Statements
_____ Stock Certificates
_____ Canceled Checks
_____ Check Stubs
_____ Social Security Documents
_____ Retirement Papers
_____ Pension Documents
_____ Income Tax Returns
_____ Affidavits, as necessary
_____ Filing fees, if any
More Questions? Get Legal Help With Your Guardianship Case
Gathering your guardianship documents is a critical part of the guardianship process. Going through the documentation process by yourself could easily overwhelm you. This is especially true for family members working through minor guardianship after a child's parents become unable to care for them and individuals working through adult guardianship unexpectedly.
An experienced family law attorney can make your life easier by helping you understand the type of guardianship you are subject to. They can also help you navigate through the legal documents and the filing deadlines. In certain instances, legal aid may help a guardian or guardian ad litem with this process.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?
- Guardianship is always a court process
- An attorney can help file a guardianship petition and represent your interests
- Legal advice during the planning, court processes, and interviews is helpful
- Your attorney can help you understand the final decision from the court
Get tailored advice for becoming or appointing a legal guardian. Many attorneys offer free consultations.
Don't Forget About Estate Planning
Once new guardianship arrangements are in place, it’s an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions. It takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.