Child guardianship laws in California are primarily used to place a child in the care of a trusted adult when the child's parents have died or are unable to properly care for the child, whether due to illness, alcoholism or drug addiction. The law provides for two types of guardianships, one for the "person" of the child and the other for the "estate" of the child. The court can appoint one adult as guardian of both the person and estate, or a separate guardian for each.
Probate Court Supervision
Every county in California has a Superior Court and within it is a designated probate court that is assigned all child guardianship cases. A legal guardianship for a child will only be established after the appropriate papers are filed with the probate court and the court determines that the requested guardianship is in the best interests of the child. Once the guardianship is established, it will remain under the supervision of the probate court until the child turns 18 or the court terminates the guardianship, whichever comes first.
Guardianship of the Person
In most guardianship applications, the probate court is being asked to appoint an adult who lives with the child, other than the child's parents, to have sole legal authority to make the decisions necessary for the child's care and development, such as meeting day-to-day living needs, medical care and schooling. This is called a "guardianship of the person" for the child. The duties and responsibilities for such a guardian are the same as you would expect for a child's parents. However, there are additional restrictions and responsibilities. The guardian must keep the court informed of the child's current residence and cannot move the child out of state without prior court approval. The guardian will also have to permit reasonable visitation between the child and his parents, and abide by any restrictions the court places on the visitation. The court may even require the guardian to perform additional duties such as taking parenting classes or counseling.
Guardianship of the Estate
In nearly every guardianship case, the probate court will appoint one person as the child's guardian for her person, as well as for her estate--whatever assets the child may have. Typically, the child has no assets and the guardian has nothing to care for regarding the child's estate. However, in some instances where the child inherits significant assets--such as when both parents die--the probate court will have to carefully consider who to appoint as guardian of the child's estate. The ideal person to raise the child may not be the best person to manage the child's estate.
This is especially true considering the additional accounting requirements and restrictions on managing the child's estate imposed by California guardianship law. For example, the court can require the child's liquid assets to be placed in blocked accounts or require the guardian to post a bond. The guardian will have to file an inventory of assets with the court, file an accounting the first year of the guardianship and file further accountings at least every two years. Under these circumstances, it may be preferable for the court to appoint a financial professional familiar with California guardianship law to be guardian of the child's estate. This will be in addition to the guardian appointed to care for the personal needs of the child.