Legal Guardianship in Iowa

by David Carnes

    A guardian is a person or organization that undertakes responsibility for the welfare of a person, known as a ward, who is incapable of undertaking responsibility for his own welfare. In Iowa, guardians are appointed and supervised by the Iowa district courts. Guardianship proceedings may be either voluntary or involuntary.

    Guardian Eligibility Standards

    A guardian must be at least 18 years of age. She must not be an alcoholic or legally incompetent; she must be free of character defects such as spendthrift behavior that would render him unable or unwilling to perform his duties. A non-resident of Iowa may be appointed as a co-guardian only if at least one other co-guardian is an Iowa resident. A sole guardian must be an Iowa resident. A guardian need not be an individual; a private non-profit corporation may be appointed a guardian as long as there is no conflict of interest, such as when the corporation owns shares in a medical clinic that is providing treatment to the ward.

    Ward Eligibility Standards

    The court may appoint a guardian for a minor if his parents cannot or will not care for him for any reason and if guardianship would be in his best interests. The court may appoint a guardian for an adult if he is declared incompetent under Iowa law and guardianship would be in his best interests. Incompetence means that the ward is so lacking in the ability to make effective decisions that he cannot care for his personal safety or provide himself with basic life needs such as food, shelter or health care. A court may order a general guardianship granting full custodial authority to the guardian, or it may order a limited guardianship that grants the guardian only limited authority over the ward based on the ward's degree of competence.

    Appointment Procedure

    An involuntary guardianship procedure begins when the proposed guardian files a guardianship petition with the Iowa district court sitting in the proposed ward's home district. The ward is entitled to representation by an attorney. If the ward is married, his spouse must be notified of the proceedings. If he is unmarried but has adult children, they must be notified. The proposed guardian must establish facts rendering the ward eligible for guardianship; for example, if the ward is an adult, the proposed guardian must establish that the ward is incompetent under Iowa law and that guardianship is in his best interests. A proposed ward who is at least 14 years old may initiate a voluntary guardianship proceeding. In a voluntary proceeding, the proposed ward must only establish that a guardianship is in his best interests.

    Guardian Duties

    A guardian with general powers must take reasonable care of the ward's property, provide him with food, shelter and clothing, assist him in eventually attaining independence and self-reliance, and help him obtain medical care as needed. He may determine where the ward will live, where he will go to school and what he will eat. His consent is required for the ward to perform legal acts such as getting married or signing a contract. The guardian may be subject to civil or even criminal liability for neglecting his duties or performing them negligently. A guardian with limited powers undertakes duties that are as limited as the court sees fit; his responsibilities and legal liability are correspondingly diminished.

    About the Author

    David Carnes has been a full-time writer since 1998 and has published two full-length novels. He spends much of his time in various Asian countries and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. He earned a Juris Doctorate from the University of Kentucky College of Law.

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