Most children live with one or both of their parents, who act as their guardians. In some cases, circumstances prevent a child’s parents (or “natural guardians”) from taking care of them. When this happens, it may be necessary to have a court appoint a guardian for a child.
Guardianship comes in two forms: guardianship of the person and guardianship of the property. In Missouri, a guardian of the person is called a “guardian” and a guardian of the property is called a “conservator.” A child may need only a guardian or only a conservator or may need both. If the child has no assets, only a guardian needs to be appointed if his parents are not able to take care of him. If a child’s parents are taking care of her daily needs, but she comes into a large sum of money outright, through inheritance or as a result of winning a lawsuit, for example, it may be necessary to appoint only a conservator for the child. Some children will require both.
Both guardians and conservators must be appointed by the court. Guardianship cases are heard in the probate division of the circuit court. The court will evaluate the suitability of the applicant to act as guardian or conservator. This may involve a home study by a social service agency or a review of the applicant’s ability to handle money. The court will appoint an independent attorney to protect the interests of the child in the proceeding.
If the court appoints a guardian or conservator, the appointed person must file annual reports to keep the court informed of the child’s well-being. A guardian will file an annual statement on a form provided by the court telling the court about the child’s living situation and any significant medical issues. Conservators must be bonded, and may only make expenditures from the child’s funds with court approval. A conservator must annually provide the court with an itemized statement of all receipts of the minor’s income and all expenditures made on behalf of the minor from her funds and show proof of the assets remaining on hand.
Guardianships and conservatorship of minors expire on the minor’s 18th birthday. The court will discharge the guardian on application from the minor. The conservator must make a final settlement of the minor’s accounts as soon after the minor’s 18th birthday as possible and will not be discharged by the court until the account has been approved by the court and the funds paid to the minor. To find answers to these or other questions about guardianship, you can contact the attorneys at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal, P.C.