A legal guardian is an adult who is appointed or chosen by a court to make decisions on behalf of an individual who cannot make their own decisions. Normally, a guardian is chosen for a minor, but sometimes a court will establish a guardian for an adult with special needs or an adult child can become an elderly parent's legal guardian.
Guardianship for 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 their 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. Guardians for minors are usually selected with the best interests of the minor in mind.
Generally, the guardian provides whatever care would be given to a child by his or her parents. The guardian of a minor looks after the direct physical well-being of the minor and the assets of the minor's estate, including providing a legal residence in order for the ward to attend a public school, applying for public assistance benefits for a minor if needed, applying for public housing on behalf of a minor where necessary and bringing lawsuits on behalf of the minor. The guardian also receives and maintains any money due the minor for their care and support, and is required to maintain, account for, and preserve any excess funds beyond what is necessary to support the minor. The guardian also has to authorize any necessary medical or other care for the well-being and health of the ward.
Guardianships for minors are terminated when the minor reaches the age of majority, but can be reinstated by the court where it can be shown that the ward still requires supervision.
Guardianship and Disabilities
Guardianships for physically or mentally disabled or incapacitated persons have, in recent decades, been understood to facilitate the independence and self-reliance of the ward. Guardianships are limited as much as is reasonable in order to allow wards to exercise as much control over their lives as possible while maintaining as much dignity and self-reliance as possible. The desires of the wards are given primary consideration.