Appointing a guardian for your children is an important element of a well-planned estate. Whether you’ve already named a guardian, are still trying to find the right person, or have just begun to write a will, you may wonder what, exactly, a guardian is responsible for.
In general, a guardian is somebody who will look after your underage children in the event you die before they reach adulthood.
California specifically defines guardianship in different ways. A guardian is someone who may:
- Take custody of your child, directly providing for them in the same way you might
- Manage your child’s estate, or any other assets, investments, or properties you may have left them in your will
Often, an appointed guardian takes on both responsibilities at once.
If you intend a guardian to take custody of your child, they will be expected to provide for them similar to a parent. The Superior Court of California has determined that a guardian’s fundamental responsibilities include providing their minor ward with:
- Medical and dental needs
Guardians are responsible for a child’s personal well-being, too. They have a legal obligation to ensure your child’s “safety, protection, and physical and emotional growth.”
Other potential responsibilities include maintaining a habitable home, assuming liability for any mistakes a child may make, and deciding if/when the child is allowed to get a driver’s license.
In some cases, you may wish to appoint a guardian whose sole responsibility is managing an estate on behalf of your child. Just like the other category of guardian, California has rules and expectations for estate guardians, too.
Somebody who is appointed the guardian of an estate must:
- Carefully manage a child’s inherited money and properties. Any investments must be prudent, wise, and low-risk.
- Keep the child’s assets separate from their own. If they’re managing a trust or setting up an account in the child’s name, they will have to follow certain processes which prevent them from misusing available funds.
Guardians of estates are subject to other rules, too—especially if they are entrusted with large sums of money, sizeable stock holdings, or investments that accrue interest.
You should understand that guardians are prohibited from financially benefiting from their position, unless you’ve specified in your will that they receive a stipend. Generally, and with few exceptions, an estate guardian can never withdraw funds from your child’s inherited account for personal use. In some cases, though, they may obtain a court order to redirect estate funds if they need the money to support your child.
A Guardian Will Also Work With the Court
Guardians have the additional responsibility of working with the courts to approve their appointment if their services are ever needed. To do that, your guardian will have to submit paperwork to the court. An inspector will likely review your will and its terms and then determine whether your guardian is fit to act in that capacity.
There is usually a little less oversight for guardians who act solely as the caretakers of an estate. However, such guardians are still bound by California law on how they may engage with entrusted assets and can be held legally and financially liable if they misuse funds or fail to comply with applicable laws and regulations.
Guarding Your Child’s Future
Choosing a guardian is a big decision, both for you and the person you nominate. However, naming a guardian is also a critical step in ensuring the integrity of your estate as well as the well-being of your child.
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