What Does Legal Guardianship of Grandchildren Mean?

By Anna Green

Legal guardianship is a formal status under which grandparents assume a limited set of rights and responsibilities for their grandchildren. In some instances, parents voluntarily create guardianship agreements with the grandparents. In other cases, family courts establish guardianship arrangements on behalf of the grandchildren. The conditions and legal scope of guardianships vary by state, but in most instances, the grandparents must care for their grandchildren's daily needs and act in the children's best interests.


Some guardianship arrangements are permanent. Typically, grandparents are given permanent guardianship of their grandchildren only if the children's parents are deceased or if the court terminates their parental rights. In most states, the guardianship relationship ends when the grandchildren reach the age of majority. If the grandchildren have exceptional medical, emotional or financial needs, the court may extend the legal guardianship arrangement beyond age 18.

Decision-Making Rights

Generally, legal guardians have the ability to make decisions about their grandchildren's medical care, schooling and finances. For example, guardians can apply for Social Security on behalf of their grandchildren, according to FindLaw. Grandparents can also file lawsuits on behalf of the children. Legal guardians have many rights, but if the children's parents are living, grandparents may not change their grandchildren's names without consent.

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Grandparent legal guardians are responsible for the day-to-day care of their grandchildren. If the grandchild has an estate, the guardians are entrusted with managing the minor's finances. In some instances, grandparent guardians may be required to care for all of the grandchildren's expenses out-of-pocket. Typically, grandparents are only financially responsible for their grandchildren in permanent guardianship arrangements where the court has terminated the parental rights. In other cases, the child's parents are often required to pay child support to the grandparent guardians.

Parental Rights

Unless the court has already terminated the rights of the children's mother and father, a guardianship arrangement does not nullify the parents' rights to visit their children. According to the Iowa Department of Human Services, while the court or grandparents may restrict the scope of visitations and interactions with their children, parents typically retain their rights throughout the duration of the guardianship arrangement. In many guardianship situations, the court can terminate the legal guardianship arrangement at any time and reassign custody of the grandchildren. If the guardianship arrangement is voluntary, in most instances, the parents can voluntarily choose to end the agreement.

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Legal Guardianship in Arizona

In Arizona, as in other states, an adult may obtain legal guardianship over a minor or an incapacitated adult with approval from a court. The person for whom a guardianship is established is known as the ward. Legal guardians have specific responsibilities including providing their wards with protection, support and care.

Difference Between a Guardian and Custody in Michigan

Custody laws primarily focus on the rights of parents while guardianship provides rights to family members or other adults who have taken responsibility for raising children. Although the rights given through guardianship may be similar to parents' custodial rights, the rights granted to a guardian vary from one case to the next. Michigan state law defines several types of guardianship arrangements that may fit a family’s needs and circumstances.

What Are the Responsibilities of a Temporary Guardian?

A temporary guardian's job is to provide short-term care for an individual referred to as a ward. Wards may be minor children or adults suffering from physical, emotional or mental limitations. Generally, a court appoints a temporary guardian. For example, if an adult has no close family members and suffers an incapacitating stroke, a probate judge has the power to quickly appoint a temporary guardian so as not to delay the patient's critical care decisions. The lengths of appointments and legal oversights for temporary guardians vary based on state laws. For example, in Maine, appointments expire after 6 months. In Oregon, appointments expire in 30 days, but may be extended 30 more days upon a showing of good cause.

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