Guardianship Basics

Guardianship is a legal arrangement where a court gives a person the legal right to make decisions for another person who is unable to make decisions for themselves such as a child, an incapacitated adult or someone who is developmentally disabled.

In New York State, a guardianship case is handled by the the Family Court, Supreme Court or Surrogate's Court depending on the type of guardianship asked for and the person over whom guardianship is requested.


Who's Who

In a guardianship, one person has the legal right to make a decision for another person.

  • Guardian. The Guardian is the person appointed by the court who has the legal right to make decisions for another person. Anyone can apply to be a guardian if you are over the age of 18 and a legal resident or citizen of the United States. Someone with a criminal record may not be able to serve as a guardian. The Judge makes the final decision of who can be the guardian.
  • Ward. The Ward is the person the Guardian makes decisions for. The Ward may not have the cognitive or communicative capacity to make decisions for themselves or be able to give informed consent for personal, medical, or financial affairs. Sometimes the Ward is called the Guardianee.


Types of Guardianship

A guardian can have guardianship over different aspects of a ward's life:

  • Guardian of the person. A guardian of the person can make life decisions for the ward like health care, education and welfare decisions.
  • Guardian of the property. A guardian of the property handles decisions about the ward's money, investments and savings as directed by a Judge. A guardian of the property must file an annual report about the property.
  • Guardian of the person and property. This kind of guardian has responsibility of both the ward's life decision and the ward's property.
  • Guardian ad litem. A guardian ad litem is assigned by a Judge to act for a person during a court case when they cannot defend their rights or protect their own interests.

Depending on who the Ward is and how much help that person needs each, the guardianship case is filed in Family Court, Surrogate's Court, or Supreme Court. Read about the Guardianship Case.

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