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How to Get Legal Guardianship

Your heart is in the right place -- now make sure you know what you're getting into when you file for guardianship. Follow procedures and get ready for tough scrutiny.


  • TIP: Coguardians may be appointed, and any guardian may resign through a petition to the court, or be terminated by the court.
  • Step 1: Receive official approval to act as guardian when the judge issues the "letters of authority." The court could require the new guardian to post a bond, unless waived, which is fairly routine.
  • FACT: Of the 510,000 American children in foster care in 2006, 46 percent were in non-relative households.
  • Step 2: Accept that if the child or incapacitated person challenges the guardianship, a hearing may be scheduled to sort out the complaint.
  • Step 3: Interview with a court investigator and share any record of neglect, abuse, or criminal activity. Before they make a formal recommendation to the court, they may visit the home to determine suitability, or review school and medical records.
  • TIP: Guardianship can be assigned when legal guardians voluntarily abandon their duties or the court deems them unfit.
  • Step 4: Weigh the person's welfare against the potential drain on family, energy, finances, and privacy. The court will have say in what happens in the home, so be prepared to be called to account regularly.
  • Step 5: Cooperate with a guardian _ad litem_. Appointed to advocate on behalf of the dependent, they will gather information from the petitioner, health care providers, and others, and report to the court.
  • Step 6: Fill out official papers from the court offices, requesting guardianship of a child, parent, or other dependent. File the finished forms with a probate court clerk. Consider getting a lawyer to handle the process.

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