What Does Legal Guardianship of Grandchildren Mean?

By Laura Payet

What Does Legal Guardianship of Grandchildren Mean?

By Laura Payet

The concept of guardianship varies slightly from state to state. Generally, however, having legal guardianship of grandchildren gives grandparents custody and the rights to care for and make decisions on their behalf. Guardianship may be temporary, lasting until the parents are able to care for their children again, or permanent, such as in situations where the parents are deceased or have lost their parental rights.

Grandparents reading book with grandchildren

A Guardian's Rights and Responsibilities

A guardian's rights and responsibilities are essentially the same as a parent's with respect to a minor child. As a grandparent with legal guardianship of your grandchild, you have the responsibility for their day-to-day care and supervision and the obligation to act in their best interests. You have the right to make decisions for him regarding healthcare, finances, and education. If they have money, you may be responsible for managing it. If the guardianship is permanent, you are financially responsible for supporting them, but if it is temporary, their parents may be ordered to provide some support.

Guardianship and custody are two different legal states. When you have physical custody of your grandchild but are not their legal guardian, you don't have all the rights of guardianship. You may not be allowed to consent to medical treatment if needed, to sign school permission slips, or to apply for a passport or financial assistance on their behalf. If you hope to provide a stable, long-term home for your grandchild, it's important to pursue a guardianship to secure the legal authority you need to act in place of your grandchild's parents.


How Grandparents Become Guardians

Sometimes, grandparents may become legal guardians to their grandchildren when the children's parents pass away. The process can be greatly simplified for you if both parents have appointed you as guardian in their last will and testament. Although a court must still approve the guardianship, in most cases courts honor the parents' wishes unless the designated guardian is obviously unfit. Guardianship in these circumstances is permanent and lasts until the grandchild reaches adulthood.

If only one parent passes away, the court typically places a child with their surviving parent even if the deceased parent's will names a grandparent as guardian. The court might be persuaded to make an exception, however, if the deceased parent had custody of the child and the surviving parent had little to no contact with them or if the deceased parent and the child both lived with the designated grandparent.

When your grandchild's parents are still alive, you might be named guardian either through agreement with the child's parents or by court order. If the child's parents are unable to care for them, they might agree to make you a temporary guardian until they are back on their feet and able to fulfill their parental responsibilities again.

Alternatively, if you are concerned that your grandchild is being abused or neglected, you can petition the court to be made a guardian on at least a temporary basis. Unless the parents' parental rights have been terminated, they retain the right to visitation with the child during the guardianship. The court may set conditions and limits on visitation. In this situation, the guardianship is temporary and terminates according to the agreement between grandparent and parent or upon the court's order.

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