Understanding Guardianships in Washington State

Posted On January 12, 2021 Family Law

A guardian is a person who has been appointed by a Washington court to have the legal authority to consent on behalf of a minor or of an adult person who has been legally determined to be incapacitated. However, parents still maintain their parental rights. The way this happens in Washington state is through a process called guardianship

The Difference Between Guardianship, Custody, and Adoption

Guardianship, custody, and adoption are all legal arrangements for the care of children. The court will make the decision on each one when, for some reason, a child’s parents cannot care for them. There can be some confusion surrounding these terms, so here are the differences between them: 

  • Guardianship: the legal parents can consent to a guardianship and must typically still financially support the child. In general, the legal parents can also terminate a guardianship at any point. 
  • Custody: a person or an entity (e.g. social services) is responsible for the care and well-being of a child. The legal parents can regain custody by proving they are capable of caring for the child. Custody can also be either legal or physical. Physical custody refers to where the child lives, and legal custody refers to the parent’s ability to make decisions for the child. 
  • Adoption: an adult becomes the permanent and legal parent of a child. 



The main difference is that guardianship focuses more on finding help for those who are not physically or mentally capable of taking care of themselves. Whereas, custody and adoption arrangements focus on the parent-child relationship. 

What Does a Guardian Do?

A guardian of a minor, who is typically not their own, is responsible for providing them with proper care for their health and safety, including food, clothing, shelter, and more. Important personal decisions are also made on their behalf. For example, regarding issues related to education, finance, health care, etc. A court-appointed guardian has the same rights, powers and duties that a parent has toward an unemancipated minor child.

Alternatively, a guardianship can provide a child’s parent the right to oversee a child or their estate. This typically occurs in cases involving serious medical needs or financial assets. When a guardian is managing a child’s estate, they are required to safeguard the funds until the child’s 18th birthday. 

When Does a Guardianship End?

There are a number of reasons why a guardianship will end or may no longer be needed, including: 


  • Age of Majority: when the protected child turns 18. 
  • Death: when the protected child or the guardian dies. 
  • Resignation: if the guardian resigns, then a judge will appoint a new guardian.  
  • Parents Takeover Care: if the protected child’s parents can prove that they have corrected the issues which led to the guardianship, then the child may be placed back in their care. If the guardian voluntarily agrees, an agreement can be signed, or else the parents must formally petition the court for a judge to decide.
  • No Assets: if the child no longer has any financial assets.
  • Unnecessary: a judge must determine if a guardianship is no longer necessary or does not serve the child’s best interests.

Most often, guardianships are not given a time limit and only end once one of the above events occurs. 

Getting Help from a Spokane Family Lawyer

If you have additional questions or concerns about guardianship in Washington, contact the experienced family law attorneys at Twyford Law Office. We offer free consultations, call (509) 327-0777 to schedule an appointment.

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