In the popular culture universe, the galaxy, including all of us humans, is well protected by guardians and superheroes. However, in our real world of 2014, there can be family members who require help from the California Courts, specifically in the matter of naming a legal guardian.
For probate law matters, the naming of legal guardians for minor children is an important issue regularly addressed by people becoming parents. Guardianship designation documents are generally included in a comprehensive estate plan, and name the person or persons that parents wish to look after their children in the event the parents should die.
However, in family law terms, guardianship is a more immediate matter when it becomes necessary in the present moment, often urgently, for the court to order a person other than a child’s parent to assume custody and care of that child. A parent or both parents may be unable to fulfill their roles for many reasons. The terminology crosses over a bit into estate planning, since it includes terms such as “guardianship of the person” – seeing to the child’s physical and emotional well-being, education and health included – and “guardianship of the estate” – which refers to managing and protecting the child’s property and assets, which fall under the umbrella term “estate.” The “person” and “estate” guardians may be one or two people; sometimes it is a parent, if the court permits.
Let’s address this subject of probate guardianships. They do differ from those handled in juvenile court or juvenile dependency court, which is the subject of a separate blog post. Who generally petitions to be appointed guardian? It can be a grandparent or grandparents, other (adult) family members, or unrelated persons such as family friends. The potential guardian requires the court’s permission in order to make decisions on behalf of the child, since the child will be living with this person. A guardianship of the estate provision is not always required if the child does not own substantial assets, though it should be included in an estate plan regardless. (When a child reaches 18, he or she may begin managing his or her own financial affairs.)
Because of the complex responsibilities involved, including fiduciary duty, in guardianship situations it is highly advisable to consult a knowledgeable family law attorney.
Our next blog will address other aspects of guardianship.
As Orange County’s premier family law specialists, the attorneys at Dinnebier & Demmerle can provide answers to your questions and concerns, clarify and establish your legal rights, and represent you in court. If you would like more information about petitioning for guardianship or any other aspect of California family law, please call to set up a consultation. We’re ready to move forward when you are. Just contact us in Tustin at 714-598-3714.