A legal guardian is a person appointed by the court to undertake responsibility for someone who is unable to take responsibility for himself. The person over whom a guardianship is sought is known as a ward. A ward may be either a child under the age of 18, an adult suffering from a disability or a senior citizen. A guardian may only be appointed by court order.
Some of the general powers and duties of a guardian include:
- providing for the ward’s care
- support and maintenance
A ward needs a guardian if he cannot take care of himself in any of these areas and is not competent to make decisions. In that case, a guardian is needed to watch over and take care of the ward.
A guardian has the legal power to decide where the ward lives and the level of care required. A guardian of an adult ward is not responsible for the financial support of the ward. A guardianship differs from a conservatorship in that a conservator only has the power to make financial decisions on behalf of the ward.
Missouri law has a preference for appointing blood relatives as guardians whenever possible.
The courts will first consider:
- Any person designated by the incapacitated person
- A person previously named as an attorney-in-fact when the ward was not incapacitated
- A relative
- Parents are the guardians of minors unless the parents are deceased, refuse to serve, or are judged unfit.
A parent may designate a guardian in a will, but a hearing is still necessary to determine if the designated person is capable of performing the duties of a guardian because wills only take effect upon the death of their makers.
There are many safeguards in place to prevent the abuse of power in a guardianship position. These abuses, however, still occur. If a guardianship is necessary, it is important that the incapacitated person be represented by a family law attorney in order to ensure that the person’s interests are protected.