Under the Oklahoma Guardianship and Conservatorship Act was enacted to protect the welfare of children and incapacitated adults in Oklahoma. When a person is unable to care for his or her own physical or financial well-being or to make competent decisions about personal, medical, and financial matters, the court may appoint a guardian to oversee the financial assets and to make decisions about the general welfare of that person.
The Guardianship and Conservatorship Act, beginning in 30 O.S. 1-101, defines a guardian as simply "a person appointed by the court to take care of the person or property of another." The person who is placed under the care of a guardian, or over whose property a guardian is appointed, is called a "ward."
No one can be made a guardian without a court order. One cannot simply assume responsibility for a person or his or her property without the legal intervention of the court. In some cases, a person may wish to assume guardianship of a minor or adult because the would-be guardian sees a person he or she cares about making destructive decisions or not receiving adequate care. However, not every potential ward wants to be under guardianship, nor does every potential guardian wish to assume legal powers over the ward for legitimate purposes. Because of this, the court weighs guardianship decisions very carefully, seeking the welfare of the potential ward above all other considerations.
Often, guardianship involves power over the welfare of a minor, but an incapacitated adult may also be placed under guardianship.
Under state law, an "incapacitated person" who may become a ward of a guardian is explicitly defined in 30 O.S. 1-111 as a person aged 18 or older who meets the following criteria:
In some cases, a person may be able to handle some of the responsibilities of his or her financial and physical well-being, but not all of them. The Oklahoma Guardianship and Conservatorship Act also defines a "partially incapacitated person." This is a person whose impairment is only such that he or she cannot successfully meet the requirements for physical health and safety nor manage his or her finances without assistance from a limited guardian.
In the case of a minor ward, the Guardianship and Conservatorship Act holds that parents are the natural guardians of their children, and it is not intended to limit parental rights. However, in some cases a parent may not be able to serve as a suitable guardian for his or her own child: addiction, financial difficulty, illness, or incarceration may render a person temporarily or permanently unable to fulfill his or her parental obligations. In such a case, a family member or concerned friend may seek guardianship of the child.
Not every situation requires full or permanent guardianship of the ward. The court recognizes the varying degrees of guardianship as follows:
Whether a person is granted special guardianship, general guardianship, or limited guardianship, he or she will have specific obligations which must be fulfilled in order to maintain guardianship over the ward.
Oklahoma state law lists a specific order of preference in appointing guardianship. Parents are considered to be the natural guardians of their children, but this is not always the optimal situation for children, nor is it always feasible in guardianship of adults. Children aged 14 or older have the right to nominate their own guardians, and the court's order of preference follows:
Guardianship of a minor child is often granted to grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, and other adults who are blood relatives of the child.
Assuming responsibility for the welfare of another person is a tremendous responsibility, and the courts do not appoint someone as a guardian without specifically outlining the court-ordered responsibilities that come with guardianship.
Responsibilities of a guardian include:
Guardianship may be terminated at any time. Removal of guardianship may occur if the need for such relationship no longer exists, such as when a minor reaches the age of 18 or if an incapacitated adult is no longer impaired by illness, addiction, or mental health issues. However, a guardian may be removed if he or she fails to serve as an adequate guardian for the ward:
Guardianship is never assumed. The appointment of guardianship is a legal process whereby the prospective guardian must prove that the need for guardianship of the ward exists and that they are physically, financially, and emotionally able to provide for the well-being of the minor child or incapacitated adult.
For help and legal representation in guardianship matters, call to speak with a guardianship lawyer at the Law Firm of Oklahoma.