Legal Blog

6 Steps to Gain Legal Guardianship in Rhode Island

Obtaining legal guardianship of an adult or a minor is an involved process. A guardian makes decisions for someone who is no longer capable of making those decisions for his or herself. The reasons behind seeking guardianship vary widely. Also, the eligibility standards to determine if someone should become a ward differ as well. Here are six steps to gain legal guardianship in Rhode Island.

Determine if you can become a guardian

The Probate Courts appoint caretakers, known as guardians, to make decisions on behalf of another person. Guardians decide on issues that affect the health and well-being of their ward. But, depending on the ward’s age, the state of health and state of mind, the degree of responsibility can vary. It can extend to all decisions regarding health care, finances, and living arrangements. You cannot have a criminal background that could affect your suitability as guardian. The guardian must be able to manage the ward’s resources and any unique needs of the case. It is illegal, of course, to profit from housing, medical or social services that you provide to your ward. Due to the responsibility involved, relatives or friends of the proposed ward are often the ones who seek legal guardianship.

Determine if the person can become a ward

Children and adults have different criteria for becoming a ward. For children under the age of 18, the court can appoint a non-parent as guardian as long the child is not a legally emancipated minor. For adults to become a ward, the courts must see evidence that the adult is legally incapacitated and not able to take care of themselves, either because of their age, disability, or illness. The courts will need clear proof that the person is not able to manage their day-to-day living, physical health, mental health, or finances by themselves.

Understand Rhode Island’s Limited Guardianship

In many states, a guardianship manages the personal welfare of the ward, and a conservatorship manages the money and property of the ward. However, in Rhode Island, the guardian may be responsible for finances and managing the estate in addition to the non-financial aspects of the ward’s well-being. Another difference is Rhode Island’s “limited guardianship” law. In 1992, the courts modified the guardianship role to ensure the civil rights of all Rhode Islanders. Limited guardianship is “the form of assistance that least interferes with the legal capacity of a person to act on his or her behalf.” The decision-making capabilities of the proposed ward determine the extent of the guardian’s responsibility.

File a Petition for Legal Guardianship

The next step is to file a verified petition for the appointment of legal guardianship. You file the petition with the probate court clerk in the city or town in which the proposed ward lives. It will state the name, age, address or the proposed ward and an assessment of that person’s ability to make decisions. Then the applicant describes why they are applying for guardianship. Because this is the courts first glimpse into the potential guardian, the guardian should offer a very thoughtful and sincere explanation to why they are the best guardian for this person.

Attend the Hearing

After you file the petition, the court will review the petition and set a hearing date, At these proceedings, the judge will hear from witnesses, review evidence and listen to any professional who can assess the decision-making ability of the proposed ward. It’s important to prepare well for the hearing. You will need to be able to present evidence that the proposed ward needs legal guardianship. Also, you will need to prove to the court that you are the ideal guardian for this person.

You should be able to describe how you will take care of the ward. Furthermore, the court will want to know why you wish to be a guardian. You also may be able to bring witnesses on your behalf. They can be relatives, friends, or co-workers. Your witnesses will express to the courts why you would be a good guardian in this situation. In some cases, more than one person may want to be the guardian. Perhaps several siblings all wish to be the guardian of an aging parent with dementia. As a result, the court considers the wishes of the potential ward in determining guardianship.

After the Hearing

After the hearing, the court will determine whether or not you will be the legal guardian. If awarded guardianship, you will be responsible for presenting an annual status report to the courts. You will also need to file an annual account report if you are responsible for the finances as well. If denied guardianship, you might be able to file an appeal.

Do you need help navigating the process to become a legal guardian in Rhode Island? If so, you can contact The Law Office of Jay Bianco at 401-206-0098 today.