Parents usually intend to create a Will and name a guardian in it for their minor children. Unfortunately, we all know someone who has died suddenly and unexpectedly, long before their time. When that happens, and the person who died leaves behind a minor child who does not have a surviving parent, a guardian must be appointed. Even if a guardian is named in a Will, the court must approve that selection.

If the deceased parents of the child did name a guardian in their Will, that person will be given priority to serve as guardian, but is not guaranteed to be appointed. If the minor child is 14 or older, his or her wishes as to who should be their guardian will carry a lot of weight with the judge.

Several documents must be filed with the court in the county in which the child resides in order to begin the process of appointment of a guardian. These include a petition for the appointment of a guardian, a complete listing of the minor child's next of kin with addresses, and a Notice of Hearing to set a date and time for the hearing on the petition. Any interested person can initiate the proceedings.

After the necessary forms are filed, the hearing date is set. The minor's next of kin must be properly served with notice of the hearing. If no one is contesting the appointment of the proposed guardian, Letters of Guardianship will be granted at the close of the hearing. If the appointment is contested, the judge may issue a decision at the hearing or may issue a written opinion later after having heard evidence from the parties.

If you need to pursue or contest a guardianship of a minor whose parents are deceased, give us a call right away. To minimize the risk of a contested guardianship action for your own children, make sure to appoint a willing and able guardian for them in your Will or in your Power of Attorney for Children's Health Care.