Legal Words of Wisdom: Standby Guardianship

Rodney Warner, Esq
Legal Clinic for the Disabled, Inc.
Last Modified: February 1, 2009

Peace of mind can be a rare, valuable commodity to a single parent dealing with cancer.  A standby guardianship is a legal document that may put to rest some of the fears concerning a child’s future.  It allows the parent to name someone to act as a guardian of his or her child (or children) in case of the parent’s grave medical condition, medical emergency or death.  The document can also be used by guardians (such as grandparents who have custody of grandchildren).  

There are limits to the document.  In Pennsylvania, a judge makes the final decision as to who will be the guardian. Generally, for a third party to be the guardian, the uninvolved parent(s) must consent, if he/she can be found, or must be shown to be unfit for the job.

Half of the states, plus the District of Columbia, have enacted standby guardianship laws of one sort or another.  Each state will vary on the document’s protections and requirements.  For an in depth look at the topic, check out this article from The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel Journal.


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