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What's a guardian and when are they necessary?

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Imagine your brother passed away unexpectedly in an accident. He was raising your 10-year-old niece by himself because your niece's mother died of cancer several years ago. You're ready to assume all parental responsibilities of your niece unquestionably, but you may have to jump through a few legal hurdles before you can do so. You need to become the legal guardian of your niece.

Who needs a guardian?

A guardian is the individual appointed by a Probate Court so that he or she can manage the life and affairs of another person. The person being cared for could be an incapacitated adult, a minor or someone else in need to such assistance. Here are some of the individuals that may require a guardian:

-- Someone who is in a state of mental deterioration;

-- Someone who is experiencing physical incapacity;

-- Someone in a state of severe mental illness;

-- Someone with a developmental disability; and

-- Children under the age of 18.

What if family members disagree on who will be the guardian?

Just because you want to be the guardian of your niece does not mean that other family members will agree with your decision. Your niece might have another aunt or uncle who steps forward to request guardianship status.

If there is disagreement surrounding guardianship of a minor in your family, an attorney can help you make a case for why you're the best choice. Your lawyer will advocate on your behalf by illuminating to the court sound arguments to support your capacity to be a guardian and why you are most capable of serving the best interests of your niece.

Source: Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission, "Guardianship frequently asked questions," accessed May 26, 2017

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