Guardianship is a legal relationship, supervised by the court, when a person is unable to, or can no longer communicate safe and sound decisions about his/her person and finances. The minor or adult for whom a guardianship is sought is called a Ward. A Ward may include minor children, or adults that may be mentally disabled, incapacitated, or vulnerable adults such as the elderly.
Powers of a guardian may include all decision making concerning the Ward's personal care, finances, or out-of-home placement. The duration of the guardianship may be temporary, such as in an emergency or for a short period of time, or the guardianship may be permanent in some cases.
In all guardianship cases, a Guardian and Litem for the Ward will be appointed to make recommendations concerning the imposition of the guardianship. Stipulated guardianships can progress from start to finish rather quickly, while contested guardianships may proceed to a court trial.
Guardianships of a minor may be necessary when one or both of the parents are unfit, unwilling or unable to care for the child. A wide variety of situations may lead to the unfitness, unwillingness of inability of parents to care for their child, and a guardianship is a way to ensure long term care, safety and stability for the child until the parents are able to resume their parental responsibilities, or until the child turns the age of 18 years old. Authority over decisions concerning the minor's education, health care and finances are among the various powers available to a guardian.
An adult who is mentally handicapped or incapacitated may be unable to effectively exercise his/her own rights. Such an individual may be unable to handle their own daily living, medical care or financial decisions and may need assistance when exercising these rights. A guardianship is often commenced by a close relative or other loved one and supported by a physician's report that confirms the Ward's incapacity.
The elderly are an extremely vulnerable class of people. Many situations could give rise to the filing of a guardianship of a vulnerable adult. The adult may be susceptible to exploitation through undue influence and fraud which leaves them vulnerable to thievery, identity theft and other scams that rob them of their life savings. Guardianships can provide protection and care for a vulnerable adult with cognitive impairments such as dementia, mental illness or other similar impairments.
A guardian has great power, but is required to report to a court on all decisions concerning the Ward. A guardian's decision making power may range from educational decision to investing of finances and sale of real estate, housing, whom the Ward may associate, and the type and scope of health care. Each power awarded to the guardian are determined by the court on a case by case basis, and continuing court involvement and supervision provides an extra level of protection for the Ward.
Every guardianship may be terminated upon a petition by an interested party or in the case of a minor child when a minor turns the age of 18 years old.