For the most part, parents usually care for their minor children and adults are responsible for themselves. While that is a good rule of thumb, you likely know that there are some exceptions. Sometimes, children need to be cared for by someone other than their parents; the parents might be unfit or they might have died or otherwise be unable to care for their children. Also, some adults need to have a guardian (or conservator) care for them. If you are in the position to establish a guardianship for your child or an adult in your life, here are some considerations you should keep in mind.
What Is Guardianship for a Child?
Guardianship for a minor child is when someone other than the child’s parents is responsible for the care and upbringing of the child. This generally happens when the parents are not able to care for the child. The parents could have died or they could be very ill or have some condition that precludes raising their child themselves. In some cases, the court will decide who the guardian will be; in others, the parents can decide.
A guardian for a child will usually have the child living in their home with them. They will usually provide the day-to-day care for the child, which includes taking them to school, taking them to the doctor, preparing their meals, making sure they have a safe place to live, and so on. In some cases, the child will live in another place, such as in a facility for children with special needs or at a boarding school. In that case, the guardian will be the person allowed to make legal decisions for the child. He or she might also be the one responsible for allocating funds that the child receives, such as an inheritance or social security payments.
What Is Guardianship for an Adult?
If a child has special needs that will warrant lifelong care and supervision, his or her parents will often designate an adult to care for the child after the parents are no longer able to do so. In this case, the parents will usually put this in their will and make sure that the person agrees to be responsible for their adult child.
Another type of guardianship is necessary when a previously independent adult can no longer care for him- or herself. It might be that the individual was in an accident or had an illness that left them mentally incapable of self-care. Or it might be that the person is very old and no longer has the mental capacity to arrange for his or her own care.
How to Establish Guardianship
Establishing guardianship of a minor child can be as simple as leaving directions in your will. While no parent wants to think about the possibility of dying or becoming so disabled that their child will need to be raised by someone else, the fact is that it is a possibility that should be planned for. Sometimes, a child will go to live with a guardian while the parents are still alive and able to care for him or her because it is decided that another adult would be able to better meet the child’s needs. Talk to a lawyer or a legal resource group about establishing a potential guardian or an actual guardian for your child.
In the case of an adult, a judge will need to rule that the adult is incompetent to make his or her own decisions. In some cases, this will not be contested. For example, if you need to establish future guardianship for your severely disabled adult child, your child will not be in the position to contest his or her competence. In other cases, however, the adult might contest whether he or she is mentally incompetent to handle his or her own affairs. The judge will have to make an educated decision after speaking to all parties. You will need to file papers with the court and other family members might also have the chance to file papers that either agree or disagree with your request. Again, a legal resource group can help you with this process.
Things to Keep in Mind When Choosing a Guardian
If you need to set up a guardianship for your children or an adult, there are some things you should keep in mind when choosing a guardian. Here are some of them:
- Ability to care for the individual for a long period of time. You will want to choose someone who is in good health and likely to be healthy and strong enough to care for the individual for a long time. If you are choosing a guardian for a 90-year-old parent or grandparent, the individual will need different skills and stamina than a guardian for a 5-year-old child or a 20-year-old with a severe disability. But you will want to try to choose someone who will be in the individual’s life for a long time if possible.
- Ability to manage financial and legal issues. The person will need to not only care for the individual physically (or arrange for physical care) but also care for the person’s finances. You will need to choose someone who has the integrity and skills needed to manage this important part of your loved one’s life.
- Knowledge of the person who needs a guardian. The chosen guardian should know your loved one well enough that they will be able to make an educated guess about what they would want. In the case of a severely disabled individual who has never made his or her own decisions, the potential guardian should know the parents well enough that he or she would know what they would choose.
- A good reputation and a clean background. The individual you choose should be clear of any criminal or financial fraud charges. They also should never have been convicted of child abuse or elder abuse.
Establishing a guardianship for a loved one can be overwhelming. Contact National Family Solutions to find out whether we can help you with your specific situation.