Guardianship of Minors
Parents are usually a minor's default legal guardians. As such, parents are responsible for making decisions to increase or maintain their child's welfare. Sometimes, however, a child's parents are unable to act as guardians, so a child may need someone other than their parents to make legal decisions on their behalf. In these guardianship-of-minors cases, a guardian is chosen voluntarily by the family or appointed by the court.
A guardian is someone who makes legal decisions for another person —called a ward— who is, for some reason, unable to make those decisions on their own. Read on to learn more about the selection of guardians, the termination of guardianships, and the roles and responsibilities guardians have for their wards.
Guardianship of Minors: Selection Process
A guardian should be selected with the minor's best interests in mind. Courts prefer to choose a guardian who has ties to the ward, such as a person chosen by the ward, a parent, or another relative.
Before a non-parent is chosen as a guardian, a court must deem the parents unable or unfit to look after the best interests of the minor (if the parents are still alive). However, some states allow parents to consent to a guardianship. When minors are removed from the care and supervision of their parents and adoption is neither a forthcoming nor viable option, guardianship of the minor is considered a reasonable alternative.
Even after a guardian is chosen for a minor, most state statutes provide that a minor may, once they have reached a certain age —fourteen in some states— select (or at least voice a preference for) who will be selected to serve as their guardian.
Guardianship of Minors: Roles and Responsibilities
A guardian looks after the direct physical well-being of the minor and any assets in the minor's estate. A guardian must also:
- Provide a legal residence for their ward
- Enroll their school-age ward in a public or private school
- Apply for public assistance benefits for a minor, if needed
- Apply for public housing on behalf of a minor where necessary
- Bring a lawsuit on behalf of the minor as needed
The guardian also receives and maintains any money due the minor for his or her care or support. The guardian is required to maintain, account for, and preserve any excess funds beyond what is necessary to support the minor. The guardian has a duty to look after the minor's personal property and assure the ward's proper education.
The guardian is also required to authorize any necessary medical or other care for the well-being and health of the ward. Generally, the guardian provides whatever care would traditionally be given to a child by the ward's parents.
Guardianship of Minors: Termination
Any guardianship may be terminated when the minor reaches the age of majority. However, the guardianship may be reinstated by the court after that point, if it can be shown that the ward still requires supervision.
Guardianships may also be terminated if the ward marries, and guardianships are automatically terminated if the ward dies. In addition, the guardianship may be terminated, and a new guardian appointed, if it can be shown that the guardian did not adequately perform his or her duties to the ward.
Get Legal Help With Your Minor Guardianship
The very emotional context in which guardianship issues exist makes self-representation a risky proposition. A lawyer will represent your issues in an organized and professional manner, using their knowledge of the law instead of anxiety or outrage. Contact a qualified, local family law attorney today to learn more.
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