How to obtain legal guardianship

Updated March 23, 2017

When people cannot care for themselves, the lucky ones have a caring individual step up and become their legal guardian. Most people associate this process with disadvantaged children whose parents are not available or capable of caring for them. But legal guardianship is also important to elderly persons who, even if they are cared for in a nursing home, need someone looking over their concerns with their best interests at heart.

File a petition. The petition for legal guardianship is usually a form document available at the probate or family court division of a local state court. The document should be filled out and filed in the county in which the person over whom you're seeking guardianship resides.

Gather evidence. The evidence in support of your petition for guardianship will depend on the reasons why the person needs a guardian and your unique qualifications for the role. Affidavits from doctors and nursing home staff can establish the incapacity of an adult. For guardianship of a minor, the assent of one or both parents, certificate of death for the parents, or other documentary evidence of their incapacity will work. In supporting yourself for the role, you should establish your interest in the child's well-being, based on either blood relationship or friendship with the family.

Post fiduciary bond. As part of the process, the court may require you to file a fiduciary bond covering any potential liability you might incur as legal guardian. The court will provide the form for filing proof of the bond, and it will have to be signed by the bonding agency.

Make your case. In response to the petition, the court will either hold a hearing or, if the child's immediate care is in question, appoint a guardian ad litem. The guardian ad litem will ask questions and review the situation thoroughly before reporting back to the court, and your full cooperation is recommended. At a hearing, the court will accept evidence and testimony for or against your appointment, however it might exist.

Submit letters of guardianship. If the court grants you legal guardianship, it will issue what are called letters of guardianship. Certified copies of this document will be used at school or wherever proof of guardianship is necessary.


Like many probate and family law matters, legal guardianship can involve complex and valuable legal rights, so you should speak with an attorney before filing any papers.

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About the Author

Joseph Nicholson is an independent analyst whose publishing achievements include a cover feature for "Futures Magazine" and a recurring column in the monthly newsletter of a private mint. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Florida and is currently attending law school in San Francisco.