How Guardianship Works in Maryland for Children & Families

Updated

While learning you need to go to court to take care of someone you care about can be alarming to hear, Maryland offers one of the most robust and helpful systems for people without attorneys pursuing guardianship.

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Guardianships aren’t the only way to make decisions for another person, but they are the most powerful. As such, only the court can appoint a guardian, and the guardian must report to the court as long as the guardianship is in effect. 

What Types of Guardianship Exist in Maryland?

Maryland separates guardianships into two main categories – guardianship of the person and guardianship of the property. The court can appoint both a guardian of the property and the person for the same protected person. One person might fill both roles. Alternatively, a guardian of the person and guardian of the property can collaborate for the ward’s care.

Guardianship of the person

Guardianship of the person covers many of the traditional powers most people think of when considering guardianship. It allows someone else to make medical and care decisions for another person. 

For adults, typical duties for a guardian of the person includes finding the appropriate care setting or arranging in-home care, consenting to and ensuring the respondent receives medical treatment, handling the logistics of their care needs, and making end-of-life decisions. 

Guardians of the person for the minor fulfill the same responsibilities as a parent. The minor usually lives with the guardian. The guardian can also make legal and medical decisions for the minor, like enrolling them in school, taking them to the doctor, and helping them get a driver’s license. 

Guardianship of the property

Guardians of the property exclusively manage the protected person’s finances, business matters, and legal issues. 

Guardians of the person sometimes receive permission from the court to manage day-to-day finances or small amounts of income like monthly Social Security benefits. In contrast, guardians of property handle greater amounts of assets, provide more detailed accounting and reporting to the court, and make long-term plans for the protected person’s financial care.

Guardians of the person can also hire an attorney on behalf of the protected person. That can be essential when the protected person needs to get a divorce or pursue a personal injury settlement.

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

While nobody automatically becomes a guardian, Maryland law does establish an order of priority for appointment. A petitioner with the highest priority gets a leg up in the process, but the court can appoint someone with lower priority when the court finds “good cause.” Ultimately, the court must choose a competent, suitable guardian, regardless of priority.

In order of preference, priority for appointment includes:

  • Anyone nominated by the disabled person or minor (providing the person was at least 16, and the court determines the person had capacity at the time of nomination)
  • The spouse
  • The parents
  • Anyone nominated in the will of deceased parents of a minor
  • Adult children
  • Anyone who would be legal heirs if the decedent were dead

Individuals and entities can both be guardians. Entities act as professional guardians, which can be excellent options when a protected person lacks friends or family to take on the role. Professional guardians can also bring a neutral influence when family conflict reaches a fever pitch and interferes with the respondent’s care.

Given the state’s priority designations, if choosing a guardian is important to you, be sure to do so in writing.

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

You can get all of the forms you need to file for guardianship for free online through the Maryland state court system. However, the forms you need vary depending on whether you are filing a guardianship for a minor, adult, or standby guardianship for a minor. Fortunately, the state provides detailed instructions and a forms list for each type of case.

For each case type, you start the court case by filling out a petition. The petition initiates the case and provides the information the court needs to know about each person involved. By filing a petition with the court, you formally ask the court to do something for you—in this case, appoint a guardian. 

How Do You File for Guardianship in Maryland?

Filling out forms is only the first step of filing for guardianship in Maryland. In addition to the forms, expect the court to require non-form supporting documents. The written materials make up your court file, and the case culminates in a hearing where the judge decides whether to appoint a guardian. 

For both minor and adult cases, the court requires a filing fee when you start the case. However, you can ask the court to waive the fees if you cannot afford to pay them because of low income.

For adult cases, you must file an evaluation by a medical professional that describes the respondent’s condition and need for a guardian. You can give one of the court’s forms to the care provider to fill out – see the complete list based on the type of provider the respondent sees on page two of the guardianship instructions.

After opening the case, the petitioner provides legal notice to all parties involved with the case. Finally, the court requires that proof of service be filed before the case can continue. 

You’ll file the case in the circuit court where the minor or disabled adult lives. If asking only for guardianship of the property, you can file the case in any count where the protected person owns property. You can find the correct circuit court location on the Maryland website.

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

Parents can assign a guardian for their minor child through Maryland’s standby guardianship process. Maryland makes it easy for parents to take care of this through a free, standard online form.

Parents can fill this form out at any time, even when in good health. The standby guardianship only takes effect when one of the designation conditions happens. For example, the parent can choose for the guardianship to take effect when they die, become mentally capacitated, or become subject to adverse immigration action.

The standby guardianship form also lets you choose which powers the guardian gets regarding the child’s care and any property the child owns. Parents keep all of their parental authority with a standby guardianship and can terminate it at any time. It’s an entirely voluntary designation. 

Standby guardianships only last for 180 days and then automatically end. However, the guardian can petition the court for permanent guardianship during the duration of the standby guardianship if they need longer-lasting authority. 

As an alternative to filing a petition with the court for standby guardianship, you can also nominate a guardian for your minor children in your will and your advanced directives.

How Guardianship Works for Minor Children

Guardianship for minor children allocates the responsibilities and powers of a parent to another person. Unless otherwise designated by the court, a minor guardianship typically lasts until the child turns 18. 

Guardianships can happen when one or both parents nominate another adult to care for their child. For example, this might happen when both parents anticipate prison time or even if they decide that living with another relative is in the child’s best interests. 

Sometimes guardianships happen when parents don’t consent, and the court finds that they are unwilling or unable to care for their child. Guardianships do not end a parent’s rights – instead, they give them to someone else to take care of the child. When a parent resumes the ability to take care of the child, they can ask the court to terminate the guardianship. 

Emergency guardianships

The normal guardianship process takes several weeks for the court to process the case, the petitioner to provide notice, and the hearing to occur. When the child is at risk because of the time it takes to complete the traditional procedure, the court might appoint a temporary emergency guardian.

Keep in mind that the emergency requests should only be for very serious situations that put the child at harm, not minor squabbles between the adults involved.

How Guardianship Works for Older Adults

When appointing a guardian for an older adult, the court faces a different question. The law assumes that a child is legally incapacitated because of their age. For adults, the court must first identify whether incapacity exists and to what extent. 

Adult guardianships can be full or limited in scope. By limiting a guardianship, the court restricts it to only the areas where the protected person needs assistance. For example, many adults can continue with day-to-day decision-making and mostly independent living with assistance only for major issues or finances.

How Guardianship Works for Adults With Developmental Disabilities or Special Needs

Guardianships for adults with special needs follow the same process and procedures as older adults but come with some unique issues to consider. 

While guardianships for older adults typically deal with care needs at the end of someone’s life, special needs adults require guardians as early as their 18th birthday. As such, a ward might have a guardian for over 50 years. 

As a result, guardians must plan for their ward’s care after their own life ends.

Frequently Asked Questions: Guardianship in Maryland

While Maryland provides excellent resources for navigating guardianship cases on your own, some situations go beyond cookie-cutter instructions and forms. If you have remaining questions about what you should do, consult with a guardianship attorney licensed in Maryland.

How long is temporary guardianship in Maryland?

Standby guardianships for minors last for 180 days. The court can also grant emergency protective guardianships when immediate court orders are needed for the protected person’s safety. The initial order can be up for 144 hours, but the court can extend if it finds good cause to do so.

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

Maryland courts and guardianship statutes refer to conservatorship as guardianship of the property. Other states use the term conservatorship to refer to protective proceedings that deal specifically with finances instead of medical decision-making.  

Deciding whether you need to pursue guardianship or custody can be a little tricky because both case types deal with the care and decision-making of minor children. The most important difference is that guardianships grant authority to a non-parent, while custody cases are specifically to sort out parenting issues between a child’s parents. A custody case can be part of a divorce proceeding or determine issues for never-married parents.

Can you get guardianship without going to court in Maryland?

Only the court can grant guardianship. Guardianships involve taking away a person’s fundamental rights, so the court must make specific findings on the record to warrant issuing a guardianship. 

Consider Guardianship Alternatives

A common misconception is that people need guardianship due to reduced physical abilities. Instead, guardianships fill in for critical decision-making deficits that can appear because of age or disability. To find the least restrictive option for you or your loved one, consider the different types of guardianship available. 

For many, a protective arrangement less restrictive than a guardianship can accomplish your goals. In-home assistance, assisted living programs, advanced health directives, and powers of attorney could all be suitable options, depending on your loved one’s needs.


Sources:
  1. “Standby Guardianship Timeline.” The Standby Guardianship Project. Standbyguardian.org
  2. “Maryland Guardianships.” Maryland Judiciary. Mdcourts.gov.
  3. “Article - Family Law.” Maryland General Assembly. Mgaleg.maryland.gov.

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