Alabama Law on Guardianship of a Minor

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In the state of Alabama, guardian is defined as an individual who looks after a person and their well-being. In contrast, a conservator looks after a person’s financial assets and business affairs. The legal guardianship of a minor is created when a county probate court holds a hearing to appoint a person to take care of the minor, who is called a ward. The court may appoint a guardian when a minor child’s parents die or become incapacitated.

Types of Guardianship

Types of guardianship include limited guardianship, in which a guardian has the power to make specific decisions about the ward’s life; full guardianship, in which a guardian can make decisions about any aspect of the ward’s life; and temporary guardianship, which may last up to six months.

There is also emergency guardianship, a type of temporary guardianship in an emergency. A state of emergency might be an abusive situation in the child’s home. An emergency guardianship is not meant to last beyond 30 days, but it can be renewed.

A guardian ad litem is a lawyer appointed by a court to represent the interests of a potential ward only for the duration a court action.

Steps to Become a Guardian

A minor is defined as an individual under 18. A parent of a minor is considered to be a natural guardian of the child. The steps in the appointment of a guardian are:

  • The person interested in becoming a guardian files a petition for guardianship in probate court in the county where the child resides or where the child is present when the guardianship proceedings commence.
  • The court sets a hearing and gives notices to the appropriate parties, such as the person currently caring for the child.
  • The court then appoints a guardian and issues letters of guardianship to establish that the person appointed has the legal power to act as a guardian.

The court shall appoint any person who would act in the best interests of the minor. The guardian does not need to be a family member. If the minor is 14 or older, the court can appoint a person that the minor nominates. No bond is required for a guardianship, but a bond is required for a conservatorship of an estate.

Alabama laws relating to the guardianship of minors are found at Alabama Code Article 2, Division 1. This is not the section relating to an incapacitated person. That section is Article 2, Division 2.

Requirements and Powers of Guardianship

Any qualified person may be appointed as a guardian of a minor. Candidates include a person named in a parent’s will, a relative of the child or an adult nominated by the child who was caring for the child. An adult sibling of the child may be qualified to be the child’s guardian. A parental appointment has priority, but the court can ignore priority and pass over people to select the person it deems best to serve.

A guardian is required to assume the responsibilities of a parent to support, care for and educate the ward. They must take custody of the ward and establish a home for them. The guardian must report the ward’s condition to the probate court.

Benefits of Having Guardianship

A guardian ensures that the ward will receive reasonable care, including emotional and financial support. A guardian looks out for the ward’s health and welfare and can act to compel the payment of child support to provide means to pay bills for the ward. A probate court can limit the powers of a guardian to make certain decisions about the ward’s life. Typically, the probate court requires a guardian to have an attorney to ensure that the guardian is following the probate court’s procedures correctly.

Length of a Guardianship

A guardianship of a minor ends upon the minor becoming an adult. Guardianship may also end upon the resignation of the guardian, death of the guardian, adoption of the minor, marriage of the minor or death of the minor. The guardian of an incapacitated adult has the same powers and duties as a guardian of a minor.

A minor may have a condition that causes them to be incapacitated as an adult, such as a severe developmental disability or infirmity. In this situation, the individual who served as the child’s guardian before the child turned 18 may be able to continue to serve as a guardian for the adult child.