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Guardianship of a Minor in Maryland: The Basics

To become a guardian of a minor in Maryland, an individual has to petition the court; that requires notification of all interested parties of a child that they are petitioning the court. Typically, the court then allows a period for other individuals to object to the appointment. If there are no objections, the court may proceed, with a hearing or without a hearing, depending on the individual that is petitioning and the purpose of the petition. After a guardian is appointed, whether it is of the person or the property, the court requires an initial report of the guardian. The guardian must continue court reporting or accountings throughout the length of the guardianship.

Guardianship v. Power of Attorney

Minor children cannot assign power of attorney. An individual that has power of attorney for an adult is somebody that can act on behalf of the adult in the event that the adult is unavailable or begins to lose capacity. The power of attorney document or the appointment of a power of attorney for an adult may serve to alleviate the necessity of having a guardianship proceeding in the event of incapacity, that is not the case for minor children. Minor children cannot create a power of attorney. Guardianship pleadings are required when a minor inherits property or any event where both of the minor’s parents, biological or adopted, are no longer able or willing to care for the minor child.

How the Courts Appoint a Guardian

Guardianships are typically used in two distinct areas in Maryland. The first is guardianship of minor children; often those cases arise when a child has inherited or has been awarded property, or in the event of the mutual death or the mutual unavailability of a child’s parents to care for the child. The second is guardianship of an individual who loses the capacity to make healthcare living or financial and legal decision on his or her own behalf.

The court’s priority is always the best interest of the child. The determination of guardian may involve speaking with the individual who wishes to be guardian. The court may call expert witnesses to testify as to which individuals may serve as the best guardian. The nomination of a guardian by parents or by a last will and testament often weighs heavily in the court’s determination. Sometimes, if the child is of appropriate age, the child himself or herself may be asked about who he or she prefers to act as his or her guardian.

In addition, another individual may bring their disagreement to the court’s attention. The court then may hear or may hold a hearing depending on the nature of the disagreement about the child’s best interest.

Co-Guardians

Co-guardians are also permissible in Maryland. The determination of appointing two guardians is the same as appointing one. The court’s priority is always the best interest of the child. Typically, the court will appoint two guardians when a parent or parents name a couple co-guardians of a child. For example, it is common for individuals to name their parents together or their brother and sister in law to serve as the guardians of a minor child.

What Happens at Court Hearings

The court proceedings depend on the nature of the petition and the petitioning individual. Often, the judge will ask the guardian to speak if the guardianship is uncontested; then there might be a simple conversation between the judge and the guardian. If the guardianship is contested for any reason, it may be necessary for there to be a longer hearing. Often, in those cases there may be witnesses or experts that are called on to testify to the character of the guardian and to make a determination of what would be in the best interest of the child.

Court Supervision

The purpose of court supervision is to ensure that the guardian is maintaining his or her duties and acting in the best interest of the minor child. For guardians of the property, the court reviews the expenditures and the income of assets to ensure that they are being properly managed.  For guardians of a person, the court continues to review the status of the child to ensure that it does not need to make any changes with respect to the guardian.

Guardian’s Responsibilities and Duties

A guardian’s responsibilities and duties depend on the type of guardian appointed. In Maryland, an individual can be appointed a guardian of the person or guardian of the property. Guardian of the person is the person who makes the healthcare and living decisions of the minor child, they are responsible for the child’s education and their general care. Often, the guardian ensures the child is cared for; including, but not limited to providing housing, food, and clothing, setting up doctor’s appointments, basically, all of the things living or healthcare based.

Guardianship of the property is different, that individual has the fiduciary obligation to manage assets on behalf of the ward, who is the minor child. Guardianship of the property requires the individual to file an inventory of all the assets that belong to the ward after appointment and then continue to provide the court with accountings.

The court accountings can be very complex and they usually require the attachment of bank statements, receipts; basically an accounting of every dollar that is spent on behalf of the minor child.

Typically, for the guardian of a minor, guardianship is ended when the child turns eighteen. Terminating the guardianship requires filing a final report and a final accounting, if an individual is serving as guardian of the person and of the property. Once the child turns eighteen, then he or she, with the court’s approval, will no longer be required to be under the guardianship of another adult.

Duration of Guardianship

Once a guardianship of a minor is established, the guardianship remains in place until a child reaches the age of majority or eighteen. At that time, the guardian can petition to the court to terminate the guardianship, because the minor child will be an adult capable of making his or her own healthcare, education and financial decision. There is not really a possibility to extend or shorten the duration of someone’s guardianship of a minor

Guardianship may be temporary if the guardianship was started as a result of a parent’s incapacity. In the event that a parent regains capacity, it is possible that a formal guardianship may be terminated, so that the natural parent or the adopted parent can continue to raise the child.

Unless requested, guardians are appointed for the duration of the guardianship. It is possible to petition the court and ask for an abbreviated guardian or an abbreviated term as guardian, but that will weigh as well as other facts of the case, as to whether or not the court will appoint the petitioner as the guardian.

The court makes determinations regarding guardianships and the appropriate guardian based on the best interest of the child. Whether or not a guardian can be substituted, and the success of the guardian in that term of that appointment will depend greatly on the facts of each case. The judge’s priority will always be the best interest of the child.

An individual’s obligation or role as guardian may be affected by how well they perform their duties. Although, a guardianship of a minor may last until the minor turns eighteen, a guardian’s term as guardian may be terminated by the court if he or she is not providing or not fulfilling either his or her fiduciary obligations or his or her obligations to care for the child.

How an Attorney Can Help

An attorney can help you become a guardian in Maryland by preparing the pleadings to have the process initiated. Also, an attorney can assist with explaining the process of the proceedings. Attorneys can also explain the responsibilities of guardianship, whether guardian of the person or guardian of the property. An attorney can represent you in any court appearances or court hearings. An attorney can assist with preparing and finding expert witnesses, if necessary. Once someone is successfully appointed as guardian of the person or the property, an attorney can assist with the required inventory reports and accountings that are required by the court throughout the duration of the guardianship.