How Guardianship Works in Kentucky for Children & Families


Guardianships can provide the legal authority to care for those you love, whether adults or minors. However, it’s not always easy to understand guardianship in different states. 

While navigating the court procedure to be appointed, expect to encounter several safeguards. They can feel like frustrating speed bumps in the process, they mean to protect elderly and special needs adults from having their rights unnecessarily restricted. Similarly, they try to ensure that children aren’t taken from their parents in error.

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At the end of the process, guardians gain essential powers to make decisions and conduct transactions for the protected person. The order of appointment opens many doors to facilitate the care that your loved one needs. In this guide, we’ll share how guardianship works in Kentucky for children and families. 

What Types of Guardianship Exist in Kentucky?

Kentucky offers several types of guardianships, so finding the right one to fit your needs will be the first step in the process. Kentucky’s protective proceedings cases include two broad case types for minors and adults – guardianships and conservatorships. The court can appoint both a guardian and conservator for the same person.

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Guardianships transfer personal decision-making on behalf of the ward to the guardian. For minor respondents, that means passing along the authority of a parent to a non-parent. Adult guardianships transfer the personal decision-making from an incapacitated ward to another adult. 

Adult guardianships can be further divided into full and limited guardianships. The court typically tries to make guardianship as narrowly tailored as possible to avoid unnecessarily infringing on the ward’s civil liberties. The court grants a full guardianship when it finds that the ward is fully incapacitated—unable to make any life and care decisions for themselves. The court even determines whether the ward can vote.


Alternatively, conservatorships deal exclusively with financial decision-making and asset management. Like guardianships, the court can award a full or limited conservatorship to tailor the amount of power given to the conservator. 

Even children sometimes require conservatorship. While they are certainly less likely to own property than adults, state law requires conservatorships for minors who own property worth more than $10,000. The need most typically arises when children inherit money, are beneficiaries of life insurance policies, or obtain personal injury settlements.

Who Are the Default Guardians for Minor Children, Older Adults, or Adults With Special Needs in Kentucky?

The court ultimately appoints a guardian based on their overall suitability for the role, but it does consider the potential guardian’s relationship to the respondent. Kentucky law prioritizes appointments to create a preference for guardians with specific relationships to the respondent. 

Of course, regardless of how close the potential guardian is to the respondent, the court’s primary concern is that they can perform the duties of guardian and conservator. Sometimes, family dynamics, the respondent’s condition, and other factors can complicate the efforts of the fiduciary.

The court considers the respondent’s preference for adults, which might be expressed in a will or other writing. Beyond that, the court considers the respondent’s kinship to the respondent, with closer relationships having more priority. Finally, if no suitable friend or family member is willing to serve, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services can serve as guardian. 

As with adults, the court also prefers guardians nominated by the minor if the minor is 14 or older. Guardians nominated by a parent’s legal will also have preference.

What Forms Do You Need to File for Guardianship in Kentucky?

All court cases revolve around the documents – called pleadings – that start and then continue a case. Fill-in-the-blank court forms make it easier for people without attorneys to file and manage their own cases. 

You can download adult guardianship and conservatorship forms for minors and adults from the Kentucky courts website. Notice that there is a petition for the appointment of an emergency guardian or conservator and a non-emergency one. If you need an emergency and permanent guardianship or conservatorship, you can file both documents. 

To start a case, the court requires both a petition and application. The petition provides the biographical details about the respondent necessary to establish a case. The application contains information regarding the person who wants to be appointed. 

How Do You File for Guardianship in Kentucky?

After completing your forms, you’re ready to start your case. The process varies for adult and minor cases. Keep reading to learn how to file guardianship in Kentucky.

Adult guardianships and conservatorships

In addition to filing the forms to start a case, the court also expects the filing party to pay a fee to get the case started. Look online to find your local judicial district. From there, check that district’s website to find the exact location to file your documents. Most courts have multiple sections within the court for different types of cases, so save yourself the time and frustration of standing in the wrong line by planning ahead. 

After successfully opening a case, the court appoints an attorney for the respondent. Before the final hearing, an interdisciplinary team of a doctor, psychologist, and social worker evaluates the respondent’s need for a guardian or conservator.

Kentucky’s guardianship and conservatorship process stand out from other states in that anyone filing a Kentucky protective proceedings case can expect to go before a jury. A judge or magistrate hears these cases from the bench and issues a ruling in the rest of the country.  

The jury decides whether the respondent meets the criteria for no, partial, or complete disability for personal and financial matters. Adult guardianships and conservatorships go through this intensive process because these cases take away a person’s fundamental rights to determine and manage their life.

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Minor guardianships and conservatorships

You can expect fewer steps and outside parties involved in minor cases than adult ones. To begin, look online to find your local judicial district, and from there, check that district’s website to find the exact location to file your documents. The court requires a filing fee with the forms to open a case.

The case still culminates in a hearing to determine whether the appointment of guardian or conservator should be made, but court-appointed experts are not a standard part of the process. In these cases, notice to the parents is one of the most critical elements. The child’s parents can contest the guardianship and the allegations that they are unwilling or unable to parent. 

How Do You Assign a Guardian for a Minor Child in Kentucky?

Many parents wisely make plans for their children’s care in the event of their death or incapacity, and there is more than one way to do it. First, Kentucky recognizes testamentary nominations. A parent or legal guardian can recommend a guardian to care for their child upon their death. The court still reviews the request for guardianship to ensure that the nominated guardian is suitable and able to serve as guardian. Still, the court typically honors parents’ wishes in these circumstances. 

Alternatively, if you want a guardian appointed for your child while you are still alive, you can sign a guardianship consent form to be filed in the guardianship case. Finally, a power of attorney serves as the least formal option. Kentucky has a standard delegation of parental authority form that parents can use to temporarily grant decision-making powers to another person.

How Guardianship Works for Minor Children

Minor guardianships allow a non-parent to step in with the legal authority to care for the child. Guardianship lets the non-parent, like a grandparent or even a family friend, enroll the child in school, make medical decisions, travel with the child, and more.

Guardianships can be terminated when the parent resumes the ability to take care of the child. Alternatively, guardianships typically continue until the child turns 18.

Conservatorship for minor children

Unlike guardianship, parents often petition the court for conservatorships for their minor children. Rather than addressing the care and control of the child, conservatorships assign someone to manage a minor’s property and money when it totals more than $10,000. 

The court must approve any use of conservatorship funds, either on a one-time basis or as part of a spending plan for the child’s benefit. Ultimately, a conservatorship aims to preserve the money and property for the child’s use in adulthood.

How Guardianship Works for Older Adults

Guardianships support aging adults by providing decision-making support while maintaining as much independence as possible. Ideally, guardians enable their wards to live high-quality lifestyles that match what the respondent would want for themselves.

The court grants guardians the least amount of authority possible to meet the ward’s care needs. Only a wholly incapacitated person—someone unable to make any decisions for themselves—would warrant full guardianship. The court often gives guardians day-to-day control of finances for limited funds like monthly Social Security benefits.

Ultimately, guardians must act in the ward’s best interest and remain accountable to the court. 

Conservatorship for adults

Some adults require both guardianships and conservatorships. Conservatorships grant in-depth powers to manage finances for a protected person. For example, they might manage large sums of money, manage real estate, and even hire an attorney to prosecute a lawsuit on the respondent’s behalf. 

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How Guardianship Works for Adults With Developmental Disabilities or Special Needs

Guardianships for special needs adults closely mimic traditional guardianships for older adults. The emphasis remains on encouraging independence and providing the support of a guardian in the least restrictive manner possible. 

The guardian provides the logistical and decision-making support needed to provide for the ward’s care. Depending on the ward’s condition, that might look similar to continuing the parent-child relationship of youth. Or in more difficult situations, it involves finding long-term care facilities, planning and consenting to medical treatment, and managing government benefits.

Of course, key differences in needs exist that the court can accommodate. Often, a young adult with special needs gets a guardian soon after their 18th birthday. While parents might continue the caretaking they’ve always done for a child, guardianships for special needs adults usually need to plan for the ward outliving the guardian. 

As such, standby guardians are particularly common (and important) for these adult guardianships. The court can appoint a successor guardian that takes effect upon the death or incapacity of the current guardian.

Conservatorship for adults

Special needs adults encounter complicated financial issues that sometimes require the assistance of a conservator. When they inherit or otherwise come into large amounts of money, such as through a lawsuit, that money can jeopardize their ability to qualify for essential government benefits that ensure their medical care, vocational support, and even housing.

Conservators can be crucial to the overall care team to accept and then manage funds on behalf of the ward to ensure maximum benefit. And, given that some wards will need care for decades, conservators have the challenge of ensuring any funds can be used for the ward’s benefit throughout their life.

Frequently Asked Questions: Guardianship in Kentucky

Many families successfully navigate the Kentucky guardianship process on their own. However, if you find yourself struggling with the forms or uncertain what to do, an attorney can help you make the best decision for your situation.

How long is temporary guardianship in Kentucky?

Temporary guardianships for minors last up to 45 days. It’s supposed to be a temporary solution, as the name implies. 

For adult guardianships, a petitioner can file for emergency guardianship. If the court deems an emergency appointment appropriate, the appointment terminates when a resolution has been found. Essentially, an emergency adult guardianship lasts as long as the court finds it necessary.

What’s the difference between guardianship, conservatorship, and custody in Kentucky?

Depending on the situation, a minor might need a guardianship, conservatorship, or custody case. A conservatorship allows an adult to accept and manage money and property on behalf of a child. The conservator remains accountable to the court and is charged with protecting the minor’s funds until they reach adulthood.

Guardianship and custody cases both deal with the care of a minor child. Custody cases typically allocate parental responsibilities between the parents and might be combined with the parents’ divorce case. Non-parents receive the authority in a guardianship case. 

Can you get guardianship without going to court in Kentucky?

Only the court can appoint a guardian. However, several less-restrictive options exist that do not involve the court and might be helpful for your situation, including advanced directives, powers of attorney, and representative payees.

Guardianships Create Ongoing Responsibilities to the Court

Many families are caught off guard by the ongoing court contact and accountability that comes from guardianships and conservatorships. We often see these cases as ways to take care of family members but forget that the power to do so comes from the court. 

Accordingly, the court remains responsible for overseeing the guardianship and conservatorship as long as it is in place. The court requires annual accounting of the ward’s condition and funds and can terminate the guardian’s authority when they fail to report or seem to be misusing their power.

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