What Do You Do if a Minor's Court-Appointed Guardian Dies?

By Tom Streissguth

A court-appointed guardian serves to protect the interests of a minor child who does not have a responsible parent, relative or other adult to handle his needs, including housing, education and medical care. State law governs the necessary procedures for the appointment of a guardian, as well as the steps to take if the guardian dies or is rendered unable to continue the guardianship.

Appointment of Successor Guardian

Court-appointed guardians hold important responsibilities, including the designation of a successor should the guardian pass away. Some states allow a court-appointed guardian to file a notice selecting a standby, temporary or limited guardian to serve in this circumstance. The deadline for filing this notice varies by state. In Washington, for example, a court-appointed guardian has 90 days from the date of his appointment to file.

Notification and Term of Service

The successor guardian must be notified of the appointment and, in some states, must also consent to the appointment in writing. In most cases, the notice of designation must be provided to the child or incapacitated adult as well as the immediate family and any health or care facility in which the person resides. State law may limit the amount of time a successor guardian can serve in this capacity. Indiana, for example, sets a maximum of 90 days, after which a permanent guardian -- who may be the successor -- must be appointed by a court.

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Rights and Duties

If a court-appointed guardian dies, the successor guardian must file a notice of the death along with a petition with the court for the substitution. In most cases, the designation of a successor becomes effective immediately, pending the approval of the court. The successor guardian generally has the same rights and duties as the original court-appointed guardian, including the right to consent to medical procedures.

Termination and Consent

A successor guardian does not have to be a relative of the child, although each state typically requires any legal guardian to be at least 18 years old or a legal adult. The successor guardianship comes to an end when the child reaches 18 or the age of majority, is married or the parents successfully petition the court to end the guardianship. A court may, at any time, terminate a successor guardianship if it's in the best interests of the child. Some states also give children over a certain age -- 14 in New York -- the right to petition for or object to a guardianship.

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Can the Biological Mother Change the Legal Guardianship of Her Child?


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