What you must do as a guardian

Before you ask the court to become a guardian, find out what you will be required to do if you become a guardian. You will have rights, but also many responsibilities, just like a parent.

Your specific responsibilities and rights are different if you are caring for the child (guardian of the person) or managing the child’s finances (guardian of the estate). A guardian of the person must act in the child’s best interest after deciding as a reasonable and prudent parent would what that interest is. A guardian of the estate must manage the child’s money and property strictly in the child’s interest and not in the guardian’s.

Guardian of the person

You will have rights, but also responsibilities

You may have emotional considerations. A guardianship can affect the rest of your family, and it may upset the child's parents or other relatives. Or, the parents may want to stay involved with the child even if you don't think that's best for the child.

Generally, the child must live with you.

You can let the child visit with family and friends, but they must primarily live with you. If you move, you must let the court, the child's parents, and anyone who was nominated to be the child's guardian know in writing. If you want to move out of California with the child, you have to get the court's permission before you move. 

It depends. The child cannot live with their parents. They may be able to visit their parents, but you would decide when and how often.

If you and the parents can't agree about visits, the parents can ask a judge to order visitation. You would need to do what the judge orders. If the parents want custody back, they can file papers in court asking to end the guardianship.

Decide where the child goes to school and stay involved in their education.

You will have the right and the responsibility to make decisions about the child’s education. You must stay involved in the child's education, and make sure their school gives them any help they need with school, like tutoring or special education services and support.

Take care of the child's medical and mental health needs.

You must make sure the child gets proper care, including medical, dental, and mental health care. Generally, you can make decisions about any medical treatment the child needs, but you may not place them in a mental health treatment facility against their will.

Give permission (or not) for the child to drive, enlist in the military, or get married.

If they drive, you must get the child (teen) car insurance. You may be responsible for any accidents. The guardianship will end if they enlist in the military or get married.

Keep the court up to date and follow any orders.

Each year, you will need to update the court in writing using Form GC-251 about what's going on with the child. You must also meet with any court investigators or social workers sent by the court, come to court when the court tells you, and follow all other orders.

You will be legally responsible for the child

This means you can be liable for any harm the child causes or for not supervising the child. For example, if the child causes harm -- like graffiti or a car accident -- you will be responsible for the damages. If you let the child drive without a license, you will be legally responsible.

You may have to spend your own money to raise the child

The child may get income from social security, public assistance, child support from the parents, or an inheritance from a deceased parent. Any money you get for the child must be used for the child's benefit. The judge may order you to file reports on how you spend the money if they have any questions.

The money you get may not be enough to meet the child's needs. Child support does not always arrive, even if it is ordered by the court. Contact your local child support agency or county social services office to find out more about child support or government assistance.

Guardian of the estate

You will have a fiduciary duty, the highest standard of duty under the law

A guardian of the estate owes a fiduciary duty to the child. This means that the guardian must exercise special care in managing the child’s money and property and must manage them only in the child’s interest. The guardian may not use the child’s money to benefit themselves or anyone else except the child. Because these standards are so strict, most people need help from a lawyer, an accountant, or someone else with special training.  These professionals can help you understand what you need to do to make sure you meet the standards.

In general, if you are a guardian of an estate you must:

  • Collect and manage the child's money and property
  • Keep any money or property completely separate from your own
  • Report to the court about what you've done with the money (called an accounting)

An accounting requires keeping detailed records of any financial transactions, including a list of the reason for each transaction. 

Talk to a lawyer to find out more about the requirements

You can hire a lawyer to help you. A judge can order that the lawyer's fees get paid out of the child's money and property (the estate). To make sure that the child’s interests are protected, the judge must approve any payments for services made from the estate to you or your lawyer.

What to do next

There are other legal options that may work if the parents agree. Find out what options you have instead of a guardianship. If you want to move forward with a guardianship, you can file papers in court to ask a judge to make you the child's guardian. 

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