Being a Guardian: Legal Documents To Gather

Undertaking any type of guardianship or conservatorship requires significant documentation. This process is complex because you are responsible for making decisions on behalf of a child or incapacitated person. You'll need a checklist of documents related to assets and costs.

Legal guardianship is a detailed process. Guardians work with the courts in their counties or states and often have to file reports, including annual reports. Gathering, maintaining, and preserving documents as a guardian of the person is crucial to creating a record of guardianship.

Many of your decisions may need court approval. A strong record will help the court decide what is in the best interests of the ward (the minor or incapacitated adult).

The following is an overview and checklist of guardianship documents you may have to present to the courts. 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 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. A fiduciary is someone trusted to oversee someone else's money or 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 Guardianship Documents

You will need various documents to establish guardianship of an incapacitated adult or minor child. Use the following checklist:

_____ Power of Attorney

_____ Court order, appointing you as legal guardian

_____ Letters of Guardianship, if applicable

_____ Living Will

_____ Trust Documents

_____ Deeds

_____ Land Grants

_____ Water Rights

_____ Mortgages

_____ Leases

_____ Bonds

_____ Loans

_____ Contracts

_____ Tax Notices

_____ Abstracts of Title

_____ Vehicle Titles

_____ Bank Statements

_____ Pass Books

_____ Checkbook Registers

_____ Mutual Fund Statements

_____ IRA Statements

_____ Stock Certificates

_____ Canceled Checks

_____ Bills

_____ Receipts

_____ Check Stubs

_____ Social Security Documents

_____ Retirement Papers

_____ Pension Documents

_____ Income Tax Returns

_____ Will

_____ 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 ease this process by helping you understand the type of guardianship you are subject to (like caring for a minor temporarily or establishing guardianship of an adult due to physical or mental incapacity). 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.

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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
  • An attorney can help you gather the necessary documentation
  • 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.

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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.

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