Legal How-To: Becoming a Guardian
Legal guardians can be appointed to take care of children and incapacitated adults. So how does one become a legal guardian?
Becoming a legal guardian requires a court order. Once the guardianship relationship is established, the guardian will be legally responsible for the care and supervision of minors or adults who are unable to care for themselves.
Here are the basic steps toward becoming a guardian:
- Fill out and file forms with the court. The first step you need to take to become a guardian is to fill out the appropriate forms and file them with the court. You should obtain forms from the county where the person needing a guardian lives. For example, in California, a potential guardian will need to fill out a Petition for Appointment of Guardian (among other forms), file the forms, and give notice to the appropriate people and agencies. This will probably include relatives of the person you're seeking guardianship over.
- Provide proof that the person needs a guardian. In some scenarios, like if a child's parents pass away, it's evident that a guardian is needed to step in. For children, the court will look at the child's best interests in deciding if you're the best guardian choice. However, for incapacitated adults, you'll need to provide proof that the person has a disability that imposes great limitations upon his ability to take care of himself, earn a living, or live independently without the care of others. For incapacitated adults, the court will likely only give guardians the power to oversee the things the individual can't accomplish by himself.
- Prepare for a court investigation. Once the forms have been processed by the court, a court investigator will prepare an investigative report. When minors are involved, a court investigator will likely visit the home and interview the child and her family and conduct background checks on the guardian. For adults needing a guardian, they'll likely need to undergo a psychological evaluation that will be presented to the court.
- Attend a court hearing. Guardianship issues are usually decided by a family court or probate court. Some cases are straightforward. But if there are unresolved issues -- including questions about your fitness as a potential guardian or the capacity of the person to be placed under guardianship -- a judge may order a trial. If that happens, you may want to seek help from a legal professional.
Need More Help?
While you're allowed to represent yourself at a guardianship hearing, it's a good idea to at least consult a family law or probate and estate planning attorney for more guidance on how to present your case. Local attorneys will be familiar with your local courts and judges, and will be able to offer advice tailored to your unique situation.
It may also be wise to call an attorney when you're beginning the guardianship process, to make sure you're going through the steps correctly. To learn more, check out FindLaw's comprehensive section on Guardianship.
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