A guardian is a person appointed by a probate court to act on behalf of another individual, called the ward, who is incapable of managing his or her own person and/or affairs either because of age, incompetence, or physical infirmity.

The first situation, age, is fairly straightforward. Anyone under the age of 18 years old typically cannot manage his or her own property and needs either a legal custodian or guardian to ensure their safety and well-being. A guardianship over a minor generally falls into two categories. The first is that the minor lacks a suitable parent to have custody and someone else must be appointed their guardian. This could be because both parents have passed away or because the child’s parents are deemed unsuitable for some reason. The second scenario involved a settlement upon a minor, which could include a personal injury claim or an inheritance.

The probate court is in charge of appointing the guarding, but parents may nominate a proposed guardian in their will and children over the age of 14 may also have a say in the decision.

A guardian may also be necessary if an adult is incapable of managing either his or her person (healthcare decisions) or affairs (financial decisions). A guardian may be appointed to manage just the person or estate, or may be appointed to handle both. Prior to appointing a guardian for an adult, the court must find the person is incompetent and for that reason, a guardian is necessary and appropriate.

Guardians over both minors and adults remain under the supervision of the probate court and must submit regular reports to ensure that they are properly caring for their wards. If a friend or family member suspects that a guardian is abusing their role, they should contact the appropriate authorities and may consider taking legal action themselves to terminate the guardianship.