Guardianship is when a court orders someone other than the child’s parent to:

  • Have custody of the child; or

  • Manage the child's property (called "estate"); or

  • Both.

The information in this section is about probate guardianships. These cases are brought by the person seeking to be appointed guardian or by someone else in the family asking the court to appoint a guardian. If custody of the minor was awarded to a non-parent through the juvenile dependency court, this section does NOT apply.

If Child Protective Services (CPS) is involved in your case, you probably have to go to the juvenile court to find out what you can do.

A probate guardianship of the person is set up because a child is living with an adult who is not the child’s parent, and the adult needs a court order to make decisions on behalf of the child. Generally, probate guardianships are for children under 18.

A guardianship is not the same as an adoption. Here are some differences:

In a Guardianship:

  • Parents still have parental rights. They can ask for reasonable contact with the child.

  • The court can end guardianship if the parents become able to take care of the child.

  • Guardians can be supervised by the court

Types of probate guardianship

There are 2 types of probate guardianship: The court will look at what is in the best interest of the child to make sure the child is raised in a safe, stable, and loving environment. A legal guardian can care for a child when the parents are unable to.

Guardianship of the person

In a guardianship of the person, the guardian has the same responsibilities to care for the child as a parent would. That means the guardian has full legal and physical custody of the child and can make all the decisions about the physical care of the child that a parent would make. A guardian can be anyone: relatives, friends of the family, or other people suitable to raise the child can ask to be legal guardians.

The guardian is responsible for the child's care, including the child's:

  • Food, clothing, and shelter

  • Safety and protection

  • Physical and emotional growth

  • Medical and dental care

  • Education and any special needs

The guardian is also responsible for the supervision of the child and may be liable for any intentional damage the child may cause.

A guardianship of the person is sometimes needed when, no matter how much parents love their child, they are not able to parent.

Maybe 1 or both parents:

  • Have a serious physical or mental illness;

  • Are in the military and have to go overseas;

  • Have to go to a rehab program for a while;

  • Are going to jail for a while;

  • Have a drug or alcohol abuse problem;

  • Have a history of being abusive; or

  • Cannot take care of their child for some other reason.

Guardianship of the estate

A guardianship of the estate is set up to manage a child's income, money, or other property until the child turns 18. A child may need a guardian of the estate if he or she inherits money or assets. In most cases, the court appoints the surviving parent to be the guardian of the child's estate.

In some cases the same person can be the guardian of the person and of the estate. In other cases, the court will appoint 2 different people.

The guardian of the estate must:

  • Manage the child's money;

  • Make smart investments; and

  • Manage the child's property carefully.

A guardianship of the estate is created to manage a child's property.

It is needed when:

  • The child owns or receives valuable property, like if a child inherited a house or a large amount of money.

A guardianship of the estate is not needed when:

  • A child only owns inexpensive toys and clothing; or

  • The child receives social security benefits or TANF/CalWorks (welfare).

In order to become a guardian, you must file papers with the court and go through a number of steps leading up to a court hearing. In general, you do not have to have a lawyer. But it takes quite a bit of time and energy to fill out your court forms and to "give notice" to all relatives. And most people make mistakes.

The forms and rules for notice are complicated. If you do not follow them carefully you will have to come back to court and it will take more time to process your case. Sometimes a lawyer can help you present your case to the court, especially if one or both parents object to the guardianship.