How to Get Legal Guardianship in Pennsylvania

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Legal guardianship allows a party to make financial, health and personal decisions on behalf of an individual who is either an incapacitated adult or a child under the age of 18. A person seeking legal guardianship of another will do so by petitioning the court, which then decides if the interested party can fulfill the role.

Types of Guardians in Pennsylvania

A legal guardian is a person or institution appointed by the orphans' court to be responsible for carrying out the affairs of another individual, known as a ward. Guardians may care for minor children under 18 or for adults who are incapable of making their own financial or health care decisions.

There are three types of guardianships in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania:

  • Guardianship of the minor:‌ A minor’s legal guardians are typically their parents, but in some instances, parents are not able to take care of their child (for reasons like death, serious illness or incarceration), and the court appoints another person to do so.
  • Guardianship of the person:‌ A guardian may be put in place to take care of someone or make day-to-day decisions for a disabled adult who cannot do so for themselves. A guardian cannot prohibit someone else’s marriage or consent to experimental medical procedures on that person’s behalf.
  • Guardianship of the estate:‌ A guardian is put in place to make financial decisions for an incapacitated person who cannot do so on their own.

Who Can Be a Guardian in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania courts cannot appoint a person or entity as a guardian if they have a conflict of interest. Being a family member doesn’t count as a conflict of interest. The following parties can become guardians:

  • Corporate fiduciary.
  • County agency.
  • Guardianship support agency.
  • Nonprofit corporation.
  • Qualified individual.

Appointment of a Guardian in a Will

In the case of minors, a parent will typically create a will naming their child’s guardian in the event of the parents' death. Only a parent can name a guardian of a person for a minor.

However, if the court deems that the named guardian will not act in the best interests of the child, or the will cannot be immediately located, it might not approve the guardianship. Anyone can nominate a guardian of the estate of a minor.

Responsibilities of a Guardian for a Minor

A legal guardian for a child fills the role of a parent and provides for the best interests of the child. If the guardian needs support or assistance, they can seek it through state or federal aid programs to ensure that the child is healthy and in a positive environment.

The legal guardian must provide a suitable place to live for the minor at all times and know what the child needs in terms of their mental and physical health.

A person or entity filing for legal guardianship of a child attends a hearing in which the court will decide if they are a good fit for the child. A minor’s guardianship will end when they turn 18 years old, unless they had reached 13 before the guardianship took place. In that instance, they will have a guardian until they turn 21.

Adult Incapacity in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania defines an incapacitated person as an individual who does not have the ability to evaluate information or make decisions effectively and who has become impaired to a significant degree.

When a person is incapacitated, they are either partly or fully unable to manage their medical or financial affairs. If the court finds a person to be incapacitated, it will appoint a guardian to make decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person.

Becoming a Guardian to an Incapacitated Adult in Pennsylvania

Parties who show interest in becoming a guardian for an incapacitated adult will file for guardianship of that individual with the orphans' court in their area. Through their petition, they’ll explain why they believe the individual needs a guardian.

All parties – the alleged incapacitated individual, their heirs and the institution or individual caregiver providing that person with residential services will be given 20 days' notice of the hearing, so they have time to object if they wish.

Guardianship Proceedings in Court

At the hearing, the court will review the petitioner’s evidence of the individual’s incapacitation and the evidence that other parties may present.

A person petitioning for a guardianship must show proof through a qualified medical professional of the alleged incapacitated person’s physical and mental condition and why they believe a guardianship is necessary.

Rules on Multiple Guardians and Compensation in Pennsylvania

There is no limit to the number of people who can be co-guardians to one person. However, each person acting as co-guardian must consent to all the decisions made for the incapacitated individual. If they cannot agree, they may have to return to court to seek a court order.

People and entities in guardianship roles can receive compensation from the assets of the ward after obtaining the court’s approval. However, when managing those assets, it must be solely for the ward's benefit, not the guardian’s.

Temporary or Emergency Guardians

A temporary guardianship is appointed for a ward when an emergency occurs and the lack of one can cause irreparable harm to the ward. In that instance, an interested party may file an emergency petition for guardianship. The guardianship order may be effective for a maximum of 72 hours.

If the emergency lasts longer, the party filing for guardianship can ask for an extension of 20 days past the original order’s expiration date.

In the case of minors, the court typically appoints a temporary guardian when the child’s parents have entered rehab for substance abuse addiction treatment or if they’ve been subject to emergency medical intervention as the result of substance abuse.