Legal Guardian definition

A legal guardian is a person who is lawfully appointed to take care of a minor or incapacitated person. In doing so they assume all the responsibilities a parent (also known as a natural guardian) would usually hold and become the primary caregiver of the vulnerable person.

This might happen due to the illness, incapacity, or death of their parents. Alternatively, a legal guardian might be appointed to support an adult that has reached an advanced age, or who cannot take care of themself due to disability.

Legal guardians can be known by a number of different names depending on the jurisdiction overseeing them. These include:

  • Conservator
  • Custodian
  • Curator

Being a legal guardian gives an individual significant legal authority over a vulnerable person and comes with many duties and obligations. Read on to find out more about how someone can become a legal guardian, what decisions they can make for their wards, and also what they must provide for those in their care.

A legal guardian can be chosen either by a court or selected by the parents of the child in need of care. Yet, no matter how the person who will serve as legal guardian is chosen, a family court will need to officially appoint the new guardian to this position.

To grant guardianship the court must decide first:

  • That the natural guardians, caregivers, or adult individuals are legally incapacitated.
  • That a legal guardian is necessary and to what extent.
  • Who the guardian should be.

When deciding the identity of the legal guardian, courts will almost always aim to appoint a non-restrictive choice who can adequately take care of the ward. In many cases, a direct family member may be selected.

Alternatively, the court may opt to follow any instructions set down by the incapacitated adult on who should be appointed as a guardian. These could be detailed in a will, power of attorney, or health care proxy.

Legal guardians when appointed take on responsibility for the personal and the financial wellbeing of the child or adult in need of protection. Also, as this is a court-mandated position, the custodian must adhere to guardianship laws and follow any court instructions that are given.

For legal guardians of children, this will include most of the responsibilities that parents would usually be entrusted with. They are the ones solely responsible to:

  • Enroll kids in school
  • Provide the vulnerable person’s food, clothing, and shelter
  • Preserve the ward’s physical and emotional health
  • Keep the ward safe from danger and harm

To perform these duties, legal guardians can also access the ward’s vital records if necessary to prove the identity of the child or adult in question. For example, if they need a copy of the ward’s birth certificate to apply for a new passport on their behalf.

Being named as someone’s legal guardian gives you a large amount of responsibility for another person’s life and allows you to make significant decisions for them. A legal guardian is empowered to make decisions regarding the ward’s:

  • Medical care
  • Education and schooling
  • Financial wellbeing
  • Contractual and other legally binding arrangements

Being a legal guardian is no small undertaking. It is a significant responsibility and it must be remembered that guardians will be answerable not only to the ward and fellow family members but also to the courts as well.