A legal guardian undertakes responsibility for the welfare of someone, known as a ward, who is unable to undertake these responsibilities on his own behalf. A ward may be either a minor whose parents cannot or will not care for him, or an adult suffering from an incapacity that prevents him from meeting his own needs. A guardian can be appointed only by court order. Missouri's guardianship laws are found in Chapter 475 of the Missouri Revised Statutes.
Obtain a Petition for Appointment of a Guardian and Conservator from the court clerk of the Probate Division of the Circuit Court in the county where the proposed ward lives. There are different petitions, depending on whether the ward is a minor or an incapacitated adult.
Read More: Guardianship Laws for Adults
Complete the petition. You must include identifying details about yourself and the ward, state the nature of the incapacity if the ward is an adult, and specify your reasons for seeking guardianship. You must also state the approximate value of the ward's property and list the ward's closest known relatives so that they can be notified.
Sign the petition. Prepare one copy for your records and one copy for the ward.
Deliver the petition to the court clerk. The filing fee varies widely by locality -- in St. Louis County, for example, the fee is $107, whereas in St. Louis City the fee is $500, at the time of publication. The court will notify the ward 's closest relatives of the petition and appoint an attorney to represent the ward. If the ward is an adult, the court will provide you with interrogatories to present to his treating physician to establish that he is incapacitated. Interrogatories are written questions that require answers under oath. Intentionally inaccurate responses to interrogatories can result in perjury charges.
Deliver a copy of the petition to the local Sheriff's Office. The Sheriff's Office will personally deliver the petition to the ward or his caretaker. The attorney appointed to represent the ward is required to attempt to meet with him and, if he is at least 14, personally notify him of the proceedings.
Submit the interrogatories to the ward's treating physician, if he is an adult. His treating physician must answer questions about his medical condition and state whether he believes a guardianship is justified. Return the interrogatories to the court clerk. The court will schedule a hearing once it receives answers to the interrogatories. If the physician refused to answer the interrogatories, you may petition the court to subpoena him as a witness at the hearing. If he answered the interrogatories, his written answers will be admitted as evidence that the ward is incapacitated.
Prepare evidence that the ward is not in the care of his parents, or that his parents are unable or unwilling to properly care for him, if the ward is a minor. If the minor's parents are dead, for example, you should prepare a copy of their death certificates. If they are abusive or have substance abuse problems, you might seek witnesses who are willing to provide testimony to verify this. If the witnesses refuse to testify, you can petition the court to issue subpoenas requiring their testimony.
Attend the hearing. You must present evidence that the ward is either a minor not in the care of his parents or an incapacitated adult. The court may question you about your background and your fitness to serve as guardian. More than one hearing may be required. If your petition is approved, the court will issue an order establishing your guardianship over the ward.
If you anticipate seeking guardianship over an adult relative who is currently mentally competent but who you fear may lose mental capacity, you may ask your relative to grant you durable power of attorney. A valid durable power of attorney allows you to exercise many of the powers of a guardian without being appointed guardian.
If the proposed ward is an adult with no treating physician, you may ask the court to order an independent medical evaluation.
The ward is entitled to fire his court-appointed attorney and retain an attorney of his own choosing.
David Carnes has been a full-time writer since 1998 and has published two full-length novels. He spends much of his time in various Asian countries and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. He earned a Juris Doctorate from the University of Kentucky College of Law.