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The difference between guardians and guardians ad litem

Not everyone has the authority or capacity to represent his or her own interests in a legal proceeding. Florida family and probate courts sometimes appoint guardians ad litem to protect the interests of individuals, like minors or incapacitated parties, in these instances. To be clear, a person who is a guardian ad litem is not the same as a person known as a guardian, who makes decisions for others.

A guardian ad litem is a ward's legal advocate in a single court action. On the other hand, a guardian has overall legal authority to make personal and financial decisions for a child or incapacitated party, although the title may not be permanent. Typically, parents make these choices – medical care, education, residence -- for minor children, but there are circumstances when parents cannot act as guardians.

Death or incapacity prevents parents from fulfilling their duties to represent a child's interests. Parents may select a guardian in a will or through a written declaration filed with courts. Under Florida law, a court must appoint a guardian for a minor who is the recipient of insurance proceeds or an inheritance of more than $15,000.

A person may act as a guardian, in a full or limited capacity, as long as the position is required. Wards may recover capacity or age out of a need for someone to handle their property and personal decisions for them. Guardians must file annual reports to show the financial choices made for a ward are prudent or risk losing their designations for failing to satisfy obligations.

As different as their roles may be, in Florida family and probate courts and in every applicable proceeding, the primary concerns of guardians and guardians ad litem are the best interests of a ward. An attorney can tell you more about state laws that protect minors and incapacitated individuals in legal proceedings.

Source: Florida Courts, "Guardianship," accessed June 04, 2015

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