In Indiana, the court can appoint a legal guardian to care for a minor under 18 years of age or an incapacitated adult who cannot manage their personal affairs or property. A person needing a guardian is known as a ward or a protected person. Indiana guardianship laws require a person who wishes to be a guardian to file a petition with the court requesting guardianship. If granted, that person will then answer to the court regarding the protected person's care and assets.
Child Guardianship in Indiana
In Indiana, guardianship allows someone who is not a child's parent to legally control and have custody of that minor child. Guardians make all decisions concerning the child and are legally responsible for them. Indiana courts offer both temporary and permanent guardianships for children. They grant temporary guardianships on a short-term basis – typically about 90 days – that apply to situations where there is some possibility of improvement in the child's home.
Permanent guardianships usually last until the ward turns 18 or the court ends the guardianship. It is difficult to convince the court to terminate a guardianship while a child is still a minor unless all parties agree. Permanent guardianship typically occurs when a parent dies or becomes incarcerated for several years.
The court may appoint someone as a guardian, referred to as a "guardian ad litem," to a child if they are involved in a court case. The court may also order the child's parent to pay child support to the guardian, especially if the parent receives government benefits for their child.
Applying for Guardianship of a Minor in Indiana
A person who wishes to become a guardian to a child must first go to court and file a guardianship petition. Once the court accepts the petition, it will set up a guardianship hearing. During the hearing, the petitioner will need to present evidence that supports their claim that they are the best option for the minor needing care.
Anyone who has a legal interest in the child, such as a close relative, has the right to support or oppose the petitioner and tell the court why they believe they would be a more appropriate guardian.
Preparing for a Guardianship Proceedings
A person petitioning for guardianship of a child should prepare to give testimony and evidence suggesting that other parties are not the best candidates for the minor's care. This can include documentation demonstrating an abusive relationship between the child and the family member, the other party's criminal history, or a lack of employment.
After the hearing, a judge may rule immediately or within a few weeks – the court typically attempts to place the child quickly to avoid conflict.
Defining Adult Guardianship in Indiana
A court can also appoint a guardian who cares for and supervises an incapacitated adult and their property. An incapacitated individual is someone who cannot care for themselves or their property due to illness or disability. Unless the court limits a guardian, they will supervise the ward's care and ensure their property's preservation and management while regularly informing the court of the ward's incapacity status.
Under Indiana state law, adults under guardianship still possess fundamental rights. They are:
- The right to vote.
- The right to challenge or end the guardianship.
- The right to visit friends and family.
Authorities Given to Appointed Guardians
A guardian may have authority to enter into contracts on behalf of the incapacitated person, consent to their medical care, decide where they should live, manage their finances, and decide if they can marry.
When it is in the ward's best interest, the court will limit guardianship in time, decision-making or the guardian's degree of authority to encourage the self-reliance and independence of the protected person. A person who wishes to be a guardian can also request limited control of the protected person.
Applying for Adult Guardianship in Indiana
A person interested in guardianship should first seek the help of an attorney to guide them through the process and help them fill out the necessary documents. The proposed guardian should thoroughly understand the ward's health and finances. If, for example, health issues incapacitate the protected person, the person seeking guardianship should get a doctor's report or a letter stating that the ward cannot take care of themselves or manage their finances.
After filing a petition with the court, the person who wishes to have guardianship must notify the allegedly incapacitated person, their immediate family members and any entity with care or custody of the protected person within 60 days. If the protected person consents to the petition or cannot respond to it due to their disability, the court will hold a hearing to allow witnesses to provide sworn testimony supporting the allegations in the petition.
If the court deems the evidence sufficient, it will appoint the guardian and issue legal documents known as "letters of guardianship," permitting the guardian to act on behalf of the incapacitated person.
Modifying or Terminating Adult Guardianship in Indiana
A guardianship usually stays in place for the life of the incapacitated adult. However, Indiana law requires a guardianship's termination when the ward dies or the court determines they are no longer incapacitated. The court can also terminate a guardianship when it is no longer deemed necessary.
To terminate or otherwise modify guardianship, a petition must be filed with a court, which will set a hearing for the parties involved. They will submit their testimony and supporting evidence, allowing the court to act in a way it feels appropriate. Even if a guardian wishes to resign, a court order is needed approve their resignation.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.