Guardianship of Minors
Since minors are generally protected and cared for by their parents, a minor's parents make any and all legal decisions that may be necessary for his or her welfare. However, in some cases a child may need a separate individual to attend to their legal rights, because the minor has inherited assets or no longer has a parent qualified to make legal decisions on his or her behalf. In these cases, a guardian can either be 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 unable to make those decisions on their own.
Selecting Guardians of Minors
A guardian should be selected with the best interests of the minor in mind. Courts prefer a chosen guardian to have ties to the ward, such as:
- A person chosen by the ward
- A parent or another relative
- A state employee or private person familiar with the ward
If the parents are still alive, before a nonparent is chosen as a guardian the parents must be deemed unable or unfit to look after the best interests of the minor. When minors are removed from the care and supervision of their parents, and adoption is either not forthcoming or not a viable option, guardianship is considered a reasonable alternative. Even after a guardian is chosen for a minor, most state statutes allow that at age fourteen (or other reasonable age), the minor may select (or at least voice a preference) concerning who will be selected to serve a guardian.
Guardian's Role and Responsibilities
The guardian of a minor looks after the direct physical well-being of the minor and the assets of the minor's estate. A guardian is also necessary to:
- Provide a legal residence in order for the ward to attend a public school;
- Apply for public assistance benefits for a minor if needed;
- Apply for public housing on behalf of a minor where necessary; and
- Bring a lawsuit on behalf of the minor.
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 proper education of the ward. 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 be given to a child by his or her parents.
Termination of Guardianship
When a guardianship of a minor is in place because of the age of the ward, the guardianship may be terminated when the minor reaches the age of majority. However, the guardianship may be reinstated by the court after the ward reaches the age of majority, where it can be shown that the ward still requires supervision. Guardianship may be terminated if the ward marries, and is automatically terminated at the death of the ward. In addition, the guardianship may be terminated, and a new guardian appointed, when it can be shown that the guardian did not adequately perform his or her duties to the ward.