The legal relationship that exists between a person (the guardian) appointed by a court to take care of and manage the property of a person (the ward) who does not possess the legal capacity to do so, by reason of age, comprehension, or self-control.
The term guardian refers to a person appointed by a court to manage the affairs of another person who is unable to conduct those affairs on his or her own behalf. The term is most often applied to a person who is responsible for the care and management of an infant, which in legal terms is a person below the age of majority. Thus, children who have not reached adulthood (usually age 18 or 21) must, with some exceptions, have a legal guardian.
Courts also appoint guardians to supervise the property and personal well-being of adults who cannot manage their affairs. Persons incapacitated because of mental or physical illness, drug or alcohol abuse, or other disability may require the appointment of a guardian to ensure the conservation of their Personal Property and to oversee their day-to-day personal care. The term conservator is often used for a person designated to manage the property of an adult who is unable to do so.
The law of guardianship is based on the Common Law and has been the province of state government. This law has been modified by state statutes. For example, Section V of the Uniform Probate Code, a model set of procedures governing the administration of trusts and estates, contains rules that guide courts in managing guardianships. The Uniform Probate Code (1969), adopted by virtually every state, has done much to streamline probate law. In 1982, provisions of the code were updated via the Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act (UGPPA). As legislation changed, and issues arose concerning the protection of wards, the UGPPA underwent scrutiny. The act was revised over the course of several years and, in 1997, it was officially approved by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. The act updated procedures for appointing guardians and conservators and provided due process protection for adults who are incapacitated.
There are two basic types of guardians: of the person and of the property. A guardian of the person has custody of the ward and responsibility for the ward’s daily care. A guardian of the property has the right and the duty to hold and manage all property belonging to the ward. A ward usually has a general guardian, who supervises both the person and the property, but in some circumstances it is necessary and convenient to divide responsibilities.