When one person takes guardianship over another – called the ward – the guardian takes the responsibility of making decisions on behalf of the ward. Taking guardianship is more than just watching over another person. It is a legal process that's important to get right. Anyone interested in taking legal guardianship in Arkansas should learn who can become a ward and how to do it legally.
Similarly, it's vital for people who may become wards to understand this process as much as possible.
What Is Guardianship in Arkansas?
There are two primary types of personal guardianship in Arkansas: minor and adult. In both cases, the guardian takes the legal, ethical and moral responsibility of making decisions on behalf of the ward. These decisions must be in the best interest of the ward.
Guardians take on what is called fiduciary duty of the ward. The guardian is responsible for the ward's physical health, emotional well-being, finances and educational needs in a way that benefits the ward.
Someone can also take guardianship of an estate. This can be in addition to personal guardianship or on its own. In estate guardianship in Arkansas, the guardian makes financial decisions that benefit the ward. However, estate guardianship does not include medical, emotional and educational decision-making.
Qualifying for Guardianship in Arkansas
In order to file for legal guardianship in Arkansas, a person must be:
- Over the age of 18.
- A resident of Arkansas.
- Of sound mind.
- Free of felony convictions.
Furthermore, applicants cannot have legal guardianship over many other estates or people. Sometimes, more than one person applies for guardianship of the same ward. Often, the courts give preference to biological relatives of the ward. However, the guardian does not have to be related to the ward in all cases.
How to Take Guardianship of a Minor
First, the child must be in the care of the potential guardian. They may come into the person's care because the biological or adoptive parents were unable to care for the child. Minor guardianship typically includes guardianship of the person and the estate. A child's estate may include the child's Social Security benefits, inheritance or income from a lawsuit.
In order to get legal guardianship over a minor, a potential guardian must petition the county's circuit court. The applicant should choose the court in which the ward lives. If the judge agrees that guardianship is in the best interest of the child, it may be granted. However, the process is rarely that simple, so it's important to seek legal counsel when petitioning for guardianship.
If the child's legal parent consents to the guardianship, the process can be smoother and quicker. In many cases, the parent can later revoke that consent when they are able to care for the child once again.
How to Take Guardianship of an Adult
In general, people need to follow three important steps to gain guardianship over another adult:
- Petition the county's circuit court.
- Use a professional to prove the incapacity of the ward.
- Go through a hearing.
The first step is similar to what happens with minors. Petitioners should file in the court that represents the ward's county. In the second step, an appropriate professional must prove that the potential ward does not have the physical and/or mental capacity to care for themselves. Depending on the situation, that professional may be a doctor, a social worker or a psychologist.
Some situations that may cause incapacity include:
- Severe mental health disorder.
- Serious physical incapacity.
- Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
The health care professional must complete the evaluation and file the results with the court within six months of the original petition. At that point, the court will hold a hearing to determine whether guardianship is appropriate.
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