Do I Need an Attorney to Obtain Legal Guardianship of My Minor Grandchild?

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

Do I Need an Attorney to Obtain Legal Guardianship of My Minor Grandchild?

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

A significant number of grandparents in the United States assist in raising their grandchildren, with over 35 percent of them being solely responsible for their upbringing. This is generally done through informal custody arrangements between the grandparents and parents of the child. However, to protect yourself and your grandchild, you should consider legally formalizing your arrangement, such as though a legal guardianship. Since obtaining legal custody impacts the rights and responsibilities of many lives, it's advisable to hire an attorney to help you obtain legal guardianship.

Elderly woman and little girl smiling and touching noses

What Is a Legal Guardian?

A legal guardian has the authority to take care of another person (a "ward"), such as a minor child, by serving as that person's primary caregiver. A legal guardian takes care of not the other person but also that person's personal and property interest. For example, a legal guardian is responsible for taking care of a minor child, along with any money left to that child, such as a trust.

Guardianship laws vary by state; it's important to understand what laws might impact you. Therefore, you should seek help from an experienced attorney who can help you navigate the potentially complex laws regarding legal guardianship.

How is Guardianship Different than Custody?

Although legal guardianship and custody share similar traits, they are legally different. Custodians exert more authority over the child, such as making long-term decisions regarding legal, medical, and education rights. Guardians exert authority over the child as well, but it's more limited. For example, a guardian may make day-to-day decisions for the child but not long-term decisions.

Courts appoint a custodian. For guardians, either the court or the parents may appoint a guardian. For example, if a parent is incarcerated, then the parent may appoint a legal guardian for his or her child while serving a prison sentence. However, if the parents are incapable of caring for their child, then a court may appoint a legal guardian for a certain period or until the child reaches the age of majority (18 years of age).

The complex interaction of custody and guardianship rights impact your rights and responsibilities in caring for your grandchild. A qualified attorney can help you determine these rights.

What Are a Legal Guardian's Rights & Responsibilities?

As a legal guardian, you have various rights and responsibilities, including decision-making authority over your grandchild's daily lives. This includes living arrangement, education, and health care decisions. Some states may include different or additional rights for legal guardians.

Additionally, legal guardians are responsible for the misconduct of their grandchildren. For example, if your grandchild shoplifts at the local mall, you are legally responsible for that grandchild's actions.

Before you enter into a legal guardianship on behalf of your grandchild, you'll want to carefully consider your options. You should consider consulting with an attorney or using an online service provider to assist you in answering any questions you may have regarding the establishment of a legal guardianship. By receiving additional guidance, you'll be able to make sound decisions affecting you, your grandchild, and the child's parents.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.