Guardianship: What It Means To Be A Standby Legal Guardian

We're hoping to stream some light into the matter. It is important to us that you know exactly what is being asked of you as the appointed standby guardian.

Without hesitating, you committed to being the best standby guardian you can be. Now that you have had a moment to sit with it, the realization of what a standby guardian actually means might be a little vague. The idea of being the "next one up to bat" so to speak is probably making you feel a little nervous. While it is an amazing honor to be the one chosen with the responsibility of caring for someone's child should the need arise, it is not without some questions as to where your role comes into play. 

Understanding Standby Guardianship

What is meant by the term standby guardianship?  Appointed by the custodial parent, this chosen individual will assume temporary legal guardianship in the event a minor's parent becomes unable to provide care. Standby guardians should realize the parent is not relinquishing complete control over the care of the minor child. The action of appointing a standby guardian is rather a safeguard to protect the child from not having anyone to provide care should the custodial parent not be able. The reasons why the custodial parent can be as simple as a temporary medical issue or something unforeseen such as an unexpected tragedy.

How does a standby guardian differ from a permanent legal appointed legal guardian?  As stated above, a standby guardianship is intended to be a temporary or short-term solution. An appointed legal guardian for a minor is essentially a chosen parent should the natural parent/s be unable to provide adequate care due to incapacitating circumstances. A legal term that you may come across when deciding upon minor guardianship is something called Fiduciary Duty. Fiduciary duty is essentially the ability to act and make any decision that represents the best interest of the child.

What You Need to Know as a Standby Guardian

  • Don't be afraid to inquire about medical history, needs, and atypical care requirements.
  • Prepare to have a discussion with your appointment as standby guardian.
  • Standby guardianship laws vary by state. Clarifications on varying rules and law adherence need to be researched thoroughly according to where you live.
  • The designation of a standby guardian must be typically witnessed by two people who are 18 years or older. Check the laws or contact a legal professional for the exact legal requirements in your state.
  • Standby guardianship can occur automatically if there is a "triggering" event.
  • The legal parent retains much of the control of the guardianship. However, the guardian is expected to maintain a relationship and remain available should a "triggering" event arise.
  • The legal parent retains a right to withdraw standby guardianship. The laws vary from state to state on how to accomplish this. It is best to check the requirements for the state in which you reside.
  • Every state allows transfer guardianship over a minor to another adult if they are over the age of 18 to another adult when the child hasn't any other legal custodial parent or provider available.
  • Standby guardianship can occur if the custodial parent suffers from either a physical or mental event which prevents making cognitive decisions in the best interest of the child.

The Responsibilities of a Standby Guardian

As a standby guardian, the amount of time in which you are acting in this capacity should mirror those of a parent. In the event your designation becomes necessary and active, your duties as essentially "acting parent and caregiver" means you will have to perform the daily duties of that child. These duties could include:

  • Making health decisions on behalf of the child.
  • Providing food and shelter appropriate for the age and gender of the child.
  • Offering to nurture and provide a safe environment in a similar fashion as the custodial parent.
  • Making sure the financial necessities are in place for the child as needed I.e. transportation, food, education, expenses, etc.
  • Always acting in the best interest of the child.

Building a Trusting Relationship

Nurture versus nature is one of the most debated concepts of the 21st century. It is a natural curiosity to want to know what influence a non-biological parent has on children. We probably all know of a child that is or was being raised by a stepparent. It is uncanny how the behavioral influences and social structure from varying sources contribute to a child's journey from adolescence into adulthood. The most important thing a standby guardian could do is to invest in spending quality time with the minor child. The nurturing a child receives from you could be the sole source of comfort in the absence of the custodial parent. This is especially true if death is imminent in regards to a child losing his or her natural parent.

Sharing Concerns

It is not without saying, this appointment could bring about some changes in your current lifestyle. Feel free to open a dialogue that illustrates any areas of possible concern before it arises. Think of things that you might NOT be able to offer the same as the parent. Feel comfortable enough to chat about financial provisions and long-term considerations. These things could be as simple as lifestyle and environmental concerns to diet and religion. Find an appropriate time and open up, there aren't any wrong responses or a matter too small. In the end, the talks you have with the parents might mean a world of difference and help both of you sleep a little better.

Taking Action

Preparing the position of standby guardianship means getting a few things lined up. We made a simple follow-through checklist to help you get the ball rolling in the right direction:

  • Read the instructions on the standby guardianship form a few times to make sure it is clear to you. There may be specific language or requests that may require some additional clarification. Also, it is always a good idea to read it alongside the custodial parent to have them confirm any details that should be included.
  • Take some time and sit down with the custodial parent regarding the routines of the child, detailed directions on where the schools are, and even simple things such as who the child's best friends are etc.
  • Ask questions about the people who play an integral part in the child's life. Is there a Grandmother that visits every Sunday?
  • What annual or bi-annual activities does the child participate in? For example, is there a regular day camp the child attends during Spring Break?
  • Encourage an extended dialogue to get a feel for the current lifestyle being provided for the child. Ask about any potential problem areas and concerns. Remember the more information you can gather the better.
  • Inquire about any medical issues or medications that need to be administered. Don't forget food allergies and preferences, list any past hospitalizations and illnesses, and the treating family physician and dentist. Keep medical authorization forms handy for easy reference and always keep the age and weight on hand as well.

We hope our checklist has provided you with a sense of feeling more comfortable with standby guardianship. Just in case more questions come up, our concierge team at Tootles welcomes you to reach out to our team. We want to help in any way we can!

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