A guardian is someone who is chosen -- either by a court or by being named in a legal document such as a will -- to make decisions for someone (generally referred to as the "ward") who can't make decisions for him or herself. The types of decisions that a guardian might make include:
Giving consent to medical care or treatment
Purchasing or arranging for purchase of such necessities as food, clothes, cars, household items, and other personal items
Arranging for education
Managing finances and bank accounts
When Guardians are Appointed
A guardianship requires that someone act on behalf of and protect the ward during the period of time when the ward is incapable of acting for him/herself. For example, the court may appoint a guardian when a potential ward is incapacitated and can't make decisions for him or herself because of a mental or physical disability, disease, or addiction to alcohol or other drugs. Taking guardianship of an incapacitated ward is an important responsibility, so it's crucial to know what powers you may hold as a guardian.
Guardians may be appointed for children as well. When a minor has no adult or other family member to make certain decisions on the minor's behalf until they reach the age of majority, a court can be asked to appoint a guardian for the minor. If you're interested in becoming the guardian of a minor, visit Findlaw's FAQ on Guardianship of Minor Children page for more information.
Selection of a Guardian
The selection of a guardian is an extremely important task. People with ties to the ward are preferred as possible guardians by courts. These include:
A person designated by the ward -- by legal document or otherwise -- to handle his or her affairs, before the period of incapacity occurred
Parent(s) or another relative
A state employee or private person familiar with the ward and the incapacity at issue
Whoever is chosen by the court must be willing and able to perform the duties at hand, and to represent the best interests of the ward. In selecting the guardian, the court considers the prospective guardian's character, history, physical capacity, and other relevant attributes. A potential guardian's limited education or financial resources are not disqualifying conditions in and of themselves.
The guardianship statutes of each state detail the specific duties, responsibilities, and powers of the guardian. These statutes should be examined in order to determine the standards that apply to each situation. For some examples of different state statutes, see here.
Removal of a Guardian
A guardian may be removed if a court determines that the ward no longer needs the services of the guardian. A guardian may also be removed when he or she has not provided adequate care for the ward or when it is determined that the guardian is guilty of neglect. Neglect can include using the ward's money or property for the guardian's own benefit and not obeying court orders. Upon court order, the guardian will be removed and a new guardian (or temporary guardian) will be substituted in place of the original guardian.
If you know someone who's interested in becoming a guardian, or want to become a guardian yourself, you can learn more about the process on Findlaw's Guardianship Resources page.