What is the Difference Between Custody and Guardianship?

What is the Difference Between Custody and Guardianship?

Custody and guardianship both allow someone else to care for a minor child. The main difference is how they’re set up. Keep reading to find out more.

What is Custody?

Custody is a family court order that allows someone to care for a minor child. One of the most common uses of custody is in divorce cases where the court will decide if the parents share joint custody, one will have primary custody, or, in rare cases, only one will have custody. A parent may also lose custody in cases of abuse or neglect.

What is Guardianship?

Guardianship comes from the probate court rather than family court. The guardian has similar powers to a parent or another person with custody. Guardianship may be used when both parents pass away or when both parents don’t have the physical or mental capacity to care for their child any longer.

Guardianship can also be used in the case of an adult who due to illness, injury, or disability is unable to care for himself or herself.

What’s the Difference Between Joint and Physical Custody and Guardianship?

Custody arrangements are often divided into physical and legal custody. Physical custody means a parent has the right to spend time with a child such as during visitation periods. Legal custody means a parent has the authority to make decisions over things like healthcare and education. With the trend towards awarding joint custody, most parents share both physical and legal custody, but this may not always be the same.

A guardianship is a legal arrangement, although the guardian often will also take in the child physically. If the guardianship is temporary, such as while a parent is in the hospital or jail, the guardian may be limited to making day-to-day decisions for the child during that time rather than having the same authority for more permanent decisions as a parent or someone with permanent custody would.

How Long Do Custody and Guardianship Arrangements Last?

Custody arrangements usually last until the age of majority. The parents or another interested party may request a modification of custody if there has been a significant change in circumstances.

Guardianships can also be permanent until the age of majority, but they may also be temporary. For example, a parent who is serving overseas or going in for a surgery may appoint a temporary guardian.

Can There Be Both Custody and Guardianship?

In most situations, guardianship is only used when both parents are unable to care for a child. If there is joint custody and something happens to one parent, the other parent will usually take on full custody at least until the other parent recovers. If something happens to both parents or the other parent is temporarily or permanently too far away to take on a greater role, the court may appoint a guardian. If either parent becomes able to take on full custody, the court would usually end the guardianship.

How Do Custody and Guardianship Start?

Custody often starts as one of the decisions a judge makes in a divorce case. The judge has the final say and decides what’s in the best interests of the child. The parents can ask for a certain arrangement, but even if both parents are in complete agreement, the judge may opt for a different course of action.

Custody can also arise out of an abuse or neglect case. Terminating or reducing parental rights is a serious decision, and the court will give anyone who such allegations have been made against the chance to answer the allegations. However, custody cases are not criminal trials, and the judge’s ultimate role is to further the best interests of the child.

Guardianship is also overseen by the court, but the process is slightly different. If a parent who is currently of sound mind and able to care for his or her child needs to appoint a temporary guardian, the court will almost always approve that choice. Parents can also nominate a potential guardian in case they are ever incapacitated. This choice is not automatic, since the court will want to check that the nominated guardian is able to currently serve in the role when needed, but the judge gives the nomination great weight. In cases where someone becomes incapacitated without a nominated guardian, the court will appoint a guardian after listening to the recommendations of family members and other interested parties.

How is Adoption Different Than Guardianship?

Adoption can be similar to permanent guardianship in many practical daily aspects, but there are important legal differences. First, if the parents are still living, adoption permanently ends their parental rights, while guardianship does not. A living parent who appoints a guardian may still have a legal obligation to provide financial support for their child, while an adopted child is the sole responsibility of the adopting parents. Finally, the child doesn’t have any automatic rights to inherit from a guardian but do from adoptive parents the same as a biological child.

Because of the permanence of adoption, it would generally only be part of your estate plan in case you pass away. For situations where there is a chance of recovery, you would want to use a guardianship.

Can Divorced Parents Nominate a Guardian?

Since the courts will default to another parent with custody before a guardian, nominating a guardian when the parents are divorced is more complicated. If both parents can agree to nominate the same guardian, such as a godparent, the court would honor that nomination if something happened to both parents. If each parent nominated a different guardian in their estate planning documents, it would first depend on which parent last had custody. For example, if something happened to the mother, the father took custody, and then something happened to the father, the court would start with the guardian the father nominated. However, both sides of the family would be able to appear in court and ask for a different guardian, and the court would act in the best interests of the child.

What About Grandparents?

In most situations, grandparents don’t have automatic legal rights to care for their grandchildren. This doesn’t mean the children can’t spend a week with grandma and grandpa, but grandparents don’t have the authority to make important legal decisions. If something happened to the parents, schools, doctors, and others couldn’t automatically treat the grandparents as guardians.

Of course, in many families, having the grandparents step in would be best for everyone. Judges understand this and favor awarding custody or guardianship in the right situations. You just need to make the appropriate legal arrangements rather than assuming the grandparents could automatically step in.

How Do You Terminate Custody or Guardianship?

In most custody cases, the more appropriate course of action is to request a modification of custody due to a significant change in circumstances. However, the other parent or another person may petition for termination of custody in cases of abuse or neglect.

Where guardianship is voluntary, such as a parent appointing a temporary guardian while they are away, the parent can terminate the guardianship at virtually any time for virtually any reason. Where the parent is incapacitated, members of the family may petition the court stating why the current guardian isn’t fulfilling his or her duties or why a new guardian would be better for the child.

What Happens if a Guardian Dies?

If a guardian dies or is otherwise unable to fulfill his or her duties, the court will obviously end the guardianship. However, the guardian is not treated as a parent for the purposes of appointing a new guardian. Instead of the guardian nominating a successor guardian, the court will look back to see if the parent nominated an alternate guardian. Otherwise, the judge will again listen to any recommendations from family members in trying to determine the best interests of the child.

Do You Need an Attorney?

It can be a good idea to have an attorney help you to properly establish a guardianship to care for your child should the unthinkable happen to you. To learn more about what you need to do, talk to one of the experienced estate planning attorneys at Lilac City Law. We’re conveniently located in Spokane and serve the surrounding communities.

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What is a Plenary Guardian?

What is a Plenary Guardian?

If you have a teenage child or young adult child with an intellectual or developmental disability (IDD), you may have concerns over how they will navigate the world as an adult. You may be wondering whether you need to assume legal guardianship to protect them from potentially costly mistakes. It is only sensible to think about whether or not they may need your help in making important life decisions moving forward. That is why it is important to learn more about different types of guardianship. The more you learn about the legal avenues that are available to you, the better you will be able to decide what is best for your child.

What is Plenary Guardianship?

Plenary guardianship is the official legal term for full guardianship. It is the most complete form of guardianship that can be granted by the court — where you take full decision-making responsibility for your child.

Deciding to seek full guardianship for your child is a major choice that should not be made lightly, as it will remove all of your adult child’s legal rights to make major life decisions. The last thing you want to do is lower their quality of life, so you will want to discuss the possibility of plenary guardianship with multiple key figures in your child’s life to ensure you are completely certain about your decision. These figures may include your special needs lawyer, the child’s other parent, your child’s primary physician and other medical experts. Not only will these experts help you decide what your child really needs, they can also help you present a complete argument to the court if you find you need to seek plenary guardianship.

If you do get plenary guardianship from the court, you will take over responsibility for some or all of your child’s major life decisions, including:

  • Voting
  • Driving
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Medical decisions
  • Financial decisions
  • Entering into contracts
  • Living arrangements
  • Creating a will

There are definitely individuals with such a severe IDD that they require plenary guardianship. For those individuals, plenary guardianship is a necessity for their safety and those around them. But it is also important to understand that plenary guardianship is often not necessary. Just because someone has an IDD, even a fairly significant IDD, does not mean that they should have all of their rights taken away and put in the hands of someone else — even someone as well-intentioned as their parent.

Why Do Parents Seek Plenary Guardianship?

The primary reason for plenary guardianship is to ensure the safety of the individual under guardianship. An IDD can be so severe that it can make an individual vulnerable to dangerous decisions and/or being taken advantage of by others. You want your child to live a relatively safe, comfortable, secure life. If you are certain that having full rights to get married, divorced, drive, enter into contracts, make medical decisions, make financial decisions, and so on, is likely to put your adult child in significant danger, it may be necessary to take away those rights.

How to Decide if Plenary Guardianship is Necessary

Seeking plenary guardianship for your adult child with an IDD or soon to be adult child is one of the biggest decisions you will ever make. You love your child and want what is best for them — and that may mean taking over some or all of their decision-making through full guardianship. But how do you decide if plenary guardianship is the right choice?

There is no simple, easy answer to this question. But there are some questions you can ask yourself and other experts like your special needs attorney that can help guide your decision, including:

  • Is your child completely incapable of making health care or financial decisions? Decisions like whether to get a life-saving surgery, take birth control and pay rent are extremely important choices that adults must make for their own well-being. If you do not believe your child is capable of making such decisions, you may feel compelled to take over such decisions to ensure their safety. 
  • Can your child make some major decisions with reasonable — or even extreme — assistance or accommodation? Many young adults with an IDD are capable of making some major decisions, particularly if they have some help from others that they can trust. It is far better to err on the side of caution when it comes to taking away your child’s rights to make their own decisions both for their happiness and your own. 
  • Is there a less extreme legal option you can utilize other than plenary guardianship? Plenary guardianship is considered the most drastic choice because it fully removes the rights of your child and puts them in your hands. There may be other options, like limited guardianship or power of attorney, that would allow you to provide adequate protection without the need to take away all your child’s rights. 

Alternatives to Plenary Guardianship: Limited Guardianship

If after careful consideration you determine that your child is unable to make some decisions safely due to their IDD, but not all, you could seek a limited guardianship. As the name implies, a limited guardianship is granted to address specific limitations the individual with an IDD may face. For example, if you know that your child is not capable of making sound financial decisions but is capable of making other major decisions like driving or choosing a life partner, you could seek a limited guardianship for financial matters. 

Alternatives to Plenary Guardianship: Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is even less restrictive than a limited guardianship. It grants you the power to make specific decisions on behalf of your child, such as health care decisions or financial decisions. You could get a power of attorney to help in the areas where you know you are needed without having to go through the extensive process of getting guardianship. 

Remember — The Court Will Err on the Side of Caution

As you are making your decision about what type of guardianship or legal option you want for your child with an IDD, it is important to keep the priorities of the court in mind. Generally, courts are averse to taking away any more of an individual’s rights than they have to. You are going to have a much harder time convincing a court to give you plenary guardianship than you would limited guardianship. Power of attorney will be easier to get than limited guardianship. 

Of course, if you are absolutely certain that plenary guardianship is necessary and you and your attorney can provide sufficient evidence and a compelling argument, you will likely be granted full guardianship. 

Trust Your Judgment and Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

You know your child better than anyone — which means you are the best-equipped to determine what kind of help they need as they come into adulthood. However, since the question of plenary guardianship is so significant, you should not be afraid to seek help as you make your choice. Your family physician, any specialists your child sees, and your special needs attorney have likely all encountered similar situations with other patients/clients. They can give you some insight that will probably make you feel better about your final decision. They can tell you about examples they have seen of full guardianship, experiences of adults with IDDs, information about the legal hurdles you may face and more. 

In the end, it will be up to you whether you choose to seek plenary guardianship, limited guardianship, power of attorney or some other avenue to protect your adult child with an IDD. But you will likely feel better having consulted with experts before you finalize your decision. 

Getting Help with Guardianship Decisions

For parents of children of with an IDD, the approach of their 18th birthday can bring mixed feelings. On the one hand, you know it is a joyous occasion that your child has reached one of the great milestones of life — as with every new 18-year-old, they gain the right to vote, to marry, to become part of the armed forces and to move out on their own. But the reality of their IDD could give you serious hesitation about leaving them to their own devices. You know better than anyone how capable — or incapable — they may be to make significant life decisions. You want to protect them, and you may need to take legal action to do so.

At Lilac City Law, we understand how difficult it can be to decide questions of guardianship for an adult child with an IDD. We want you to know that you do not have to go through this process alone. We are committed to helping our clients find the best available option for their children and their own wellbeing. We can help you decide if full guardianship is the right choice for your child and we can help you seek guardianship from the court.

If you have questions about plenary guardianship and your other options for protecting your adult child with an IDD, please reach out to us using the contact form below or just give us a call. It is our mission to help you protect your family, and we are ready to assist in whatever way we can. 

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How Should I Plan for Temporary Guardianship in My Family Protection Plan?

How Should I Plan for Temporary Guardianship in My Family Protection Plan?

A temporary guardian assumes the role of a guardian for a limited amount of time. You may need sudden medical care, or if you’re no longer able to care for your children, you may need someone to step in while the permanent guardian prepares to take on their role. To ensure that everything goes smoothly, you should have a plan for this in your planning documents.

What is a Guardian?

A guardian is a person that makes important financial, medical, and other decisions for another. An adult may need a guardian if an illness or injury renders them unable to care for their own affairs either temporarily or permanently. A child may need a guardian if something happens to their parents so that the parents aren’t able to care for the child.

What is a Temporary Guardian?

Unlike many guardianships, which are indefinite, a temporary guardianship lasts for a specific amount of time or until a certain condition is met. Once the temporary guardianship ends, a permanent guardian takes over if one was nominated, other provisions of your estate plan take effect, or your family and a court reach a decision.

Here are some scenarios where a temporary guardian may come into play.

  • You live far away from family including who you would want to be your primary guardian. In the event of a sudden illness or accident, you designate a close friend to handle your affairs until your family member is able to arrive and take over.
  • You need a substitute in case your selected guardian has a change in circumstances that makes them temporarily or permanently unable to fulfill their duties.
  • You are a military spouse and need someone to take over if something happens to you while your spouse is deployed until your spouse can return home.
  • A sudden emergency makes it impossible for you to complete the full guardian nomination process in time.

What Happens at the End of a Temporary Guardianship?

A temporary guardianship only has legal effect for the designated time or until the specified condition is met. At the end of temporary guardianship, it would be as if you didn’t have a guardian at all. If you have the mental capacity to do so, you can extend the guardianship. If you do not have mental capacity and have no other plan in place, the court may consider what the temporary guardian has done so far when deciding on a permanent guardian, but the fact that they were your temporary guardian is not a deciding factor in selecting the permanent guardian.

What is an Informal Guardianship?

You may sometimes hear a temporary guardianship referred to as an informal guardianship. This is because the temporary guardianship may be set up outside of the courts. Often, the informal guardianship is set out in a notarized letter. This is not as strong as a power of attorney or full guardianship but can still be useful in certain situations. One of the most common uses is when a child will be going to live with a relative for a while and the parent will still be able to address any concerns that arise while the relative assumes primary care.

What is a Testamentary Guardianship?

A testamentary guardianship is a guardianship listed in a parent’s will. This is another type of informal guardianship.

It is not possible to legally leave a child to another relative in a will even when well-intentioned and the whole family agrees. The job of a will is to answer questions about property distribution.

What a testamentary guardianship does is simply to make the wishes of the parent known. Courts will usually honor these wishes on a temporary basis if the family is in agreement, but the full guardianship process will need to happen before the guardian becomes permanent.

What is an Emergency Guardianship?

Some people may refer to the temporary guardianship they’ve set up as an emergency guardianship, but an emergency guardianship usually means a temporary guardian appointed by the court. Courts usually appoint emergency guardians when someone has a serious accident or illness and needs a guardian but never nominated one. The court appoints the emergency guardian for a limited period of time to handle the emergency while the regular guardianship process plays out.

What is a Limited Guardianship?

A limited guardianship means the guardian has limited powers. For example, you may wish to appoint a guardian to make medical decisions and a separate conservator for financial decisions. A limited guardianship can either be temporary or permanent.

Do I Need a Temporary Guardianship if I Have a Permanent Guardian?

Even if you’ve nominated a permanent guardian, the court still needs to formally approve the guardianship before it can take effect. Designating the same person to act as your temporary guardian can avoid any ambiguity about what should happen while that process plays out. In addition, you may still need a backup temporary guardian in case the permanent guardian can’t immediately step in.

Do Grandparents or Other Relatives Automatically Become Guardians of Minor Children?

Grandparents or other relatives do not automatically become guardians of minor children if something happens to the parents. They can generally take the children in temporarily as long as there are no objections from the rest of the family, but their authority to make decisions regarding school, doctors, etc. would be limited to emergency decisions only. In addition, any disputes between family members about what should happen could be disruptive to the children’s lives during an already difficult time.

What if the Parents are Divorced?

A temporary guardianship or other arrangements can’t override the other parent’s parental rights. Generally, both parents would need to agree to a temporary guardianship. For example, both parents may want to jointly make a plan in case something were to happen to both of them.

Otherwise, courts would generally look to one parent to take over if something happened to another. For example, if two divorced parents with joint custody lived in the same town and one was hospitalized, the child would usually go to live with the other parent rather than a temporary guardian appointed by the one in the hospital. If they lived far apart, a temporary guardian might come into play while travel and other arrangements are made.

Should Children Know About Temporary Guardianship Plans?

Depending on their age and maturity, it can be a good idea to let children know your plans for a family member to take care of you and/or them if something were to happen. This allows you to gain their input and can also ease fears they have about being orphaned that you may not even be aware of.

What is a Temporary Guardian’s Financial Responsibility?

You generally maintain financial responsibility for yourself and your dependent children even when you’re incapacitated. The temporary guardian may have the right to use your funds to further your and your child’s interests. This would be subject to any financial planning documents you have in place.

To make this process easy and avoid burdening the guardian, you should account for this in your planning documents. You may wish to set aside specific funds or make sure your guardian will have access to your checking and savings accounts.

Can a Temporary Guardianship Be Terminated Early?

If you have sufficient mental capacity to do so, you can terminate a temporary guardianship you established for any reason. A family member or other interested person may also petition a court to end a temporary guardianship. They may believe that you were not of sound mind when you established the guardianship or that the guardian isn’t fulfilling their duties. The court would then make a decision that it believes is in the best interest of you and/or your children.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Temporary Guardianship?

Even though you can set up an informal guardianship on your own, working with a lawyer helps make sure everything is in the proper form so that it can take legal effect. Your attorney can also help you build in the necessary financial and other arrangements into your family protection plan. To learn more, contact Lilac City Law today.

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Why You Need to Consider Options for Temporary Guardianship for Your Children

Why You Need to Consider Options for Temporary Guardianship for Your Children

As a parent, the last thing you want to think is not being around for your children.  Not being there to make decisions for them, and not being there to take care of them.

Unfortunately, accidents do happen and if the worst case were to happen to your family, there is little doubt that you would want to make sure someone you trust is around and able to care for your children!  You need to start considering a temporary guardianship for your children.

Three Reasons You Need to Consider Temporary Guardianship

Incapacitation: If you become incapacitated and unable to care for your children, you want to have someone you trust to make decisions for them.

Substitution: If you need to be out of town and away for your children for any reason, you want to have someone there to care for your children.

Emergency:  If there is an emergency that causes you unable to care for your children and there was no time to appoint a permanent guardian, then a temporary guardian will be appointed.   This is also known as an emergency guardian.  If you have not specifically set up a temporary guardian for your children, they could end up temporarily in the care of strangers, or family members that you would not want them with. 

Role of a Temporary Guardian

In a temporary guardianship, the person named:

  • Has legal custody of the child or children
  • Has the right to make any medical decisions for the child or children
  • Has the right to make any educational decisions for the child or children
  • Has the right to make any financial decisions for the child or children
  • Is legally responsible for the child or children

Length of Time a Temporary Guardianship Lasts

A temporary guardianship typically lasts up to 60 days.  State statutes will set the time period if it is a court-ordered guardianship.  The length can vary depending on each case.

If the temporary guardianship is set up in a document such as a living will or through a power of attorney, then it will last for the amount of time outlined in the document.  The amount of time should be reasonable and realistic in case of any changes.

A temporary guardianship only lasts until its purpose is fulfilled.  For example, if you appoint a temporary guardian for your children while you are on a business trip, then when you return, the temporary guardianship will end.

How to Arrange a Temporary Guardianship

There are a few ways to arrange a temporary guardianship for your children.  Each one depends on the reason you need to set one up.

  • Living Will or Power of Attorney: If you are setting up a temporary guardianship to become effective if you become incapacitated or deceased, you want to name the guardian in your living will or on your power of attorney form. This person will be the guardian of your children until you are no longer incapacitated or until a permanent guardian is named.  You may also put a period for which you want a temporary guardianship in place.
  • While you are out of town: If you need to set up temporary guardianship because you will be out of the state or country, you can name a guardian to care for your children in your absence. This can be done simply by writing a guardianship letter or filling out a guardianship form.  In the letter you want to be sure to include the name of the guardian, the reason they are the guardian, the dates the temporary guardianship is in effect, and what decisions the guardian is allowed to make for your children.

Rember to chose someone you trust.  This person will be making important decisions for your children when you cannot.  Choosing a guardian is an important decision and you need to discuss the responsibilities with whomever you choose.


Talk to us Today about a Temporary Guardianship

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Do I Need to Setup a Temporary Guardianship Form for My Children?

Do I Need to Setup a Temporary Guardianship Form for My Children?

Temporary Guardianship is a concept in family protection & estate planning that you should become aware of.  

This is the idea that whether you are away on vacation, or even if you pass away, you want to designate someone you trust with having guardianship over your children.  

Obviously, vacation is a lot less permanent than death; however, regardless of how your children might come to need temporary guardianship, you need to be aware of what it is and how to use it in a complete family protection plan. 

Temporary Guardianship: What is it?

Temporary guardianship is when you appoint a guardian to take care of your children and make decisions for them temporarily.  The person you choose should be someone you trust because they will be making financial, medical, educational, and day to day decisions for your children. You can read here for more information on how to choose a guardian for your children.

There are three main reasons you may set up a temporary guardian.

  1. In case you become incapacitated.
  2. You are out of the state or the country for leisure or business.
  3. There is an emergency that causes you be unable to care for your children.

The length of the temporary guardianship is dependent on the purpose and reason for it.  If a court has to name a temporary guardian, then it will be for up to 60 days unless circumstances change or a permanent guardian is appointed.  If you name a temporary guardian in your living will, then the guardianship will last for the amount of time you choose and put on your document.  If you are incapacitated, or there is an emergency, then the temporary guardianship will last until you can care for your children again.


Talk to A Guardianship Attorney Today 

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When You Need a Temporary Guardianship Form

Most states require you to fill out a temporary guardianship form and have it notarized.  Depending on the state you may only need to keep the notarized copy on hand, or you may have to file it with the city, county, or state.

The temporary guardianship begins on the day you sign it and expires six months after unless you state an earlier date on the form.   If you need the guardianship to last longer than six months, you will need to fill out another form after the initial six months are over.

If your child is over fourteen years old, then they will also need to sign the form.

A temporary guardianship form is not needed if you name a temporary guardian in your living will.  The living will is a legal form and can take the place of a temporary guardianship form.

If you need a temporary guardian while you are away, you can write a temporary guardian letter.  Reasons you may be gone are business trips, military deployment, or medical procedure.  It is important that your letter includes the following:

  • Reason for the letter
  • Addressed to the guardian
  • Children’s full names
  • Exact dates for the guardianship
  • Details about what the guardian can and cannot do
  • Specific permission for medical treatments, school trips, and any other activities
  • Where and how the parents can be contacted
  • Doctor and dentist contact information

It is recommended to give any of your childrens’ schools or healthcare providers a copy of the letter.  If you do not do this, then the person you are granting temporary guardianship to needs to make sure they take their copy with them.

If you have any questions about setting up a temporary guardianship form or letter, you can contact our office.