Legal Guardianship in Nebraska

by Heather Frances Google

Nebraska law recognizes that certain people cannot take care of themselves because of their age or mental condition. For example, elderly people who have diseases, such as dementia, and minor children need help caring for their physical and financial needs. Thus, Nebraska has a system whereby courts appoint guardians and conservators for children or incompetent adults to take care of them physically and manage their finances until they become capable of caring for their own needs, if ever. If you have minor children, you can nominate such a guardian as part of your will.

Wards

Under Nebraska law, guardians are appropriate for “protected persons” or wards. Protected persons include minor children and elderly persons who have advanced diseases like Alzheimer’s that make them legally incompetent to care for themselves. Even if your child is very capable and mature, Nebraska law requires him to have a guardian until he reaches adulthood. With elderly adults, they must first be judged incompetent, typically because of an advanced disease affecting their mental state, before a court requires them to have a guardian.

Authority

Guardians have authority to make important personal decisions for your child. For example, the guardian decides where he lives, what medical treatment he has and what type of training and education he receives. Nebraska courts can also appoint a conservator for your child to make financial decisions for him and manage his money until he is old enough to manage his own financial affairs. The guardian and conservator can be two separate people, or you can nominate the same person for both roles.

Process

If you name a guardian in your will and die before your child reaches adulthood, a Nebraska court can appoint that person as guardian when he files an official acceptance of the appointment with the court. However, the process is different if you did not name a guardian in your will, requiring the court to choose someone to fill this role. Without an appointment in your will, your family may petition the court after your death, asking for guardianship of your children. Under either method, guardianship typically lasts until your child turns 19.

Reporting Requirements

The guardian and ward may have a close personal relationship, but their relationship is also a legal one under Nebraska rules. Thus, the guardian has certain legal reporting requirements while he is performing guardianship duties. The guardian must report annually to the court and all interested parties, such as other family members, regarding the condition of the ward and his finances, and the guardian must keep records including an inventory of the ward’s assets. The guardian must also tell the court when he changes the address of the ward and must obtain court approval before moving the ward out of state.