Understanding Minor and Legal Guardianships

Minor and legal guardianships are appointed when an individual is deemed by the court system to be unable to look after and care for themselves. Guardians are appointed to individuals (legally termed wards) of all ages, from minors, individuals who may be medically incapacitated, or those with long-term disabilities that affect their ability to make finical, personal, and legal decisions that otherwise abled individuals could make. 

Whether minor, legal, or guardianships of estate, guardians are appointed to that ward until a) the death of their ward or b) the court determines that the ward has no further need a guardian.

Understanding Minor and Legal Guardianships


Guardians are appointed to minors in one of three situations:

  • In the event of the death of a parent
  • Abandonment 
  • When the child’s biological parents are unfit caregivers due to issues of substance abuse, neglect, etc. 

When a guardian is appointed it is assumed to be in the best internet of the child. Grandparents, family, or friends may be appointed to care for that child and to see that their needs are met.

Guardianship vs. custody

If the ward being appointed a guardian is a minor it may raise the question of how guardianship differs from custody. 

Guardianship is distinct from custody in several ways. Legal guardianships of minors grant the legal right to care for a minor to someone other than that ward’s biological parent(s). 

Custody, on the other hand, simply refers to the decision the court makes for where a child should live. Typically, a child’s parents are their legal guardians until they become an adult. However, in cases where parents are unfit to care for that child or have abandoned them, guardianship may be granted to an individual other than the parents in order to ensure the needs of that child are adequately met. 

If a child’s biological parents are still alive they may still be entitled to their legal rights as a parent. However, entirely unfit parents can have  these rights revoked. In these cases, guardians can be granted legal custody of their wards. 

Guardian ad litem

Guardian ad litem is a legal term that refers to a guardian that is  appointed as representative for the interests of a minor during legal proceedings divorce, issues or probate and estate planning, or in issues of abuse or neglect. 

Legal Guardianships

Guardianships don’t solely apply to minors. Adults and the elderly can be placed in guardianships, too. Legal guardianships of adults are appointed when those individuals are unable to care for themselves or perform tasks expected of an adult. 

These types of legal guardianships typically apply to cases where an individual is incapacitated or where they are severely mentally or physically disabled. In these cases, guardians may be required to make medical decisions, arrange housing, hire staff to care for the individual, and make end-of-life arrangements. 

In Washington State, there must be significant evidence that a guardianship would be benefit an adult individual.

Responsibilities of a guardian

Person: When an individual becomes a guardian they take on a number of responsibilities in order to care for their ward. Guardians are responsible for many of the day-to-day deacons their ward cannot make for themselves. This includes healthcare, medical decisions, food, education, housing, entertainment, hygiene, and overall well-being. These responsibilities extend to guardians of both minors and adults. Guardian’s are expected to take their ward’s wants and needs into consideration as they fulfill this duty. 

Estate: Guardians of estate take responsibility for their ward’s personal property. This responsibility includes monitoring the estate protecting assets. Guardians of the estate are expected to remain in constant communication with courts on the state of the estate. 

If you have questions about family law or are seeking representation, contact our compassionate team at The Narrows Law Group.

As of January 1, 2022, a new guardianship law will be put in place to protect individuals. This helpful fact sheet gives a brief overview of the new law.

For more in depth reading on new laws for legal guardianships, you can find the entirety of the new law here.