Testamentary vs. Temporary Guardianship

Two common types of guardianship are testamentary and temporary. They can be confusing because of their similar names. But they have very different purposes.

A legal guardian is a person appointed by a family or probate court to make legal decisions for people unable to make decisions for themselves. This usually applies to minor children (younger than 18), disabled adults, and older people.

This article explores the differences between testamentary vs. temporary guardianships. This information can be helpful if a loved one needs a legal guardian.

Testamentary Guardianship

If a minor child's parent or parents die, they should have a guardian. Testamentary guardianships allow parents to ensure their minor child has a guardian after their death. Parents can create testamentary guardianship in their wills.

In some states, parents can also name a legal guardian for their adult child with a disability who needs supervision over their person, property, or both. The appointed guardian is more than a caregiver. The testamentary guardian must act in the best interests of the child. This means managing the child's personal and financial affairs.

What Powers Does a Testamentary Guardian Have?

Testamentary guardians have significant decision-making powers. They make medical treatment decisions. Testamentary guardians also make general healthcare and mental health decisions, if necessary. A testamentary guardian differs from other types of guardians because the parents nominate them in a will.

What Happens if the Testamentary Guardian Is Unavailable?

If the parents die while the child is still a minor or incapacitated, the court will determine the appropriateness of the guardian. If the appointed guardian is unable, unwilling, or unfit to be a guardian, the court will order an appointment of a different guardian.

New Guardianship Proceedings

In that case, the probate court will start new guardianship proceedings when there's no will stating a preference. An interested party files a new petition for letters of guardianship. The probate court will set a new hearing date. Interested parties may appear in person or submit an affidavit. The court asks for proof of incapacity. Once the new guardianship case is finished, the probate court will issue new letters of guardianship.

The probate court is the place to start a new guardianship proceeding. An interested party files a new petition for letters of guardianship. The probate court sets a new hearing date. Interested parties may appear in person or submit an affidavit. The court asks for proof of incapacity. When the new guardianship case concludes, the probate court will issue new letters of guardianship.

Temporary Guardianship

Some state statutes provide for temporary or limited guardianships. The courts will grant temporary guardianships to achieve a specific purpose for a certain period. Once the purpose ends, so does the guardianship.

For example, a family member of a parent with an addiction disorder may file for temporary guardianship while the parent recovers. When the child's parent has healed, the purpose for the temporary guardianship ends. Full parental rights, including physical custody, go back to the parent with court consent.

Limited Guardianship

Temporary guardianship is different from what some states call limited guardianship. A limited guardianship remains in place until a court order ends it. Limited guardianships give the ward a sense of independence. A limited partnership is ideal for those needing help in certain areas of their life. For example, a ward may need help only managing their finances.

In a limited guardianship, the limited guardian has power over specific areas of the ward's life. In the above example, the limited guardian has no decision-making power over the ward's healthcare. They do have control over financial decisions.

Legal Conservatorship

In some states, such as California, a limited guardianship is called a limited conservatorship. In California, limited conservatorships are only for adults with developmental disabilities.

A conservator has decision-making power over the ward's life. This includes medical care, social security benefits, and well-being. This type of limited guardianship isn't "limited" by time like other limited guardianships. The guardian can make limited decisions for the person who needs care.

Keep in mind that guardianship laws vary by state. You must review your own state's laws or talk to a local attorney to understand the requirements where you live.

Emergency Guardianships

One form of temporary guardianship is emergency guardianship. This type of guardianship happens when there is an emergency, and the child or adult needs immediate services. The court appoints a temporary guardian to serve during the emergency only and for a limited time, as set by the court. Emergency petitions arise when the ward's finances are in danger of misuse. Emergency petitions are also appropriate where the ward is at risk of abuse.

The person needing an emergency guardian should have an incapacity, disability, or special needs. The court must determine that this person cannot make the decisions because of inability. Minor age, mental disability, addiction, and debilitating disease, are a few examples of incapacity. The court must also find that if a guardian isn't appointed, the person is at risk of physical or financial harm.

The court must also find that if a guardian isn't appointed, the person is at risk of physical or financial harm. The court also determines if there's no one available to make emergency decisions for the incapacitated person.

For example, the children of a parent with dementia try to misappropriate the parent's life savings. A concerned person or family member could petition for emergency guardianship. The emergency guardian has the authority over the ward's financial affairs while the court seeks a permanent guardian.

Time Limits for an Emergency Guardianship

The emergency guardianship appointment is for a short period. This period is long enough to handle the emergency. For example, if a child's parents get into a severe accident, that child has needs.

In some states, the emergency guardian may only act for up to 72 hours. The court may appoint an emergency guardian during that period. For example, if the parents are in a coma and the emergency guardianship has ended, a new guardianship proceeding may begin. The temporary guardian must file a report with the court accounting for the services they provided.

Emergency Guardians for Child Abuse Cases

In a child abuse situation, a social worker or interested person discovers potential child abuse. The immediate priority is the child's safety. Although the court may appoint a more permanent guardian, the court can appoint an emergency guardian to protect the child. This person may be a guardian ad litem. Guardianship proceedings for a permanent guardian may begin after an investigation.

Before Seeking Legal Guardianship, Talk to an Attorney

Guardianship, whether testamentary or temporary, could be more straightforward. It is easy to misunderstand the definition of either, and the stakes can be enormous. If you have questions about guardianship laws or have concerns specific to your situation, you can speak with a local family law attorney.

Was this helpful?

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.

Find a local attorney

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.

Start Planning