Navigating the (e)States of Guardianship Panic

Tom and Mary live in Contra Costa County and have taken in their nephew Johnny at age four. The father, Ricky, has been absent from Johnny’s life since shortly after his birth. Ricky now cannot be located but is believed to have moved out of the country. Renee, his mother, had been in and out of substance abuse facilities trying to address mental and physical health issues her entire life. Renee unfortunately passed away likely due to her lifelong addiction struggles.

Tom and Mary agreed to take in Johnny as they have two children ages six and ten who are his cousins. Tom and Mary realize if they did not take Johnny in there is a strong likelihood Johnny would have to be placed in a foster home. Tom and Mary are hoping to provide family life and stability for Johnny after the passing of his mother.

Tom and Mary were advised to file a Petition for Temporary Guardianship, to become the legal guardians of Johnny under California Probate Code Sections 1510 and 2250. They initially filed In Pro Per with the assistance of the Contra Costa County Probate Examiners (whom they found to be very helpful and calming). Tom and Mary chose to petition for the “person” only as they were not aware of any other assets the mother had. The court signed an order naming Tom and Mary temporary guardians of Johnny. This will allow Tom and Mary to be able to assist Johnny with medical/therapy appointments as well as school/childcare issues. They also received a court date in two months to obtain a “General Guardianship” which names the guardians until Johnny reaches age 18. They now are beginning a new life with little Johnny as a daily member of their household.

Emotional State of Panic

The first hurdle Tom and Mary face is navigating the emotional state of panic as the dynamics within their household change while they all adapt to the new personality entering their household. Should they try to get counseling for Johnny, or for themselves and their biological children to provide some guidance on how to assimilate Johnny into their household? Tom and Mary are also researching counseling and therapy opportunities that may be available to help Johnny transition into his new environment.

The Best Interest of the Child

Tom and Mary attended their first court hearing and were surprised to find out that Ricky, the father, has a brother Fred. Fred appeared at the hearing and informed the court he wishes to file a competing Petition for Guardianship as he feels he will be a better option for Johnny. Fred also disclosed that Johnny’s grandparents left Johnny $500,000 in a trust account with a private fiduciary. Fred assured the court that he only has Johnny’s best interest at heart and is not even thinking of the money.

The court informed the parties that it must take the best interest of the minor as its main consideration now that there are two parties seeking guardianship. An attorney was appointed by the court for Johnny and the Contra Costa County Probate Investigators Office was given the file to make a report. The court will rely heavily on these reports if it is forced to make a final decision on Johnny’s guardian. The hearing was continued by the court to allow time for completion of the reports while Tom and Mary remain temporary guardians.

Tom and Mary left the court in a daze and very wary of Fred’s motives. They formally entered the “The Best Interest of the Minor State of Panic” and decided to consult an attorney about their next steps.

The Estate of Panic

Tom and Mary met with guardianship attorney Susan several weeks later. Susan said she felt relatively confident that they will prevail as guardians of little Johnny as it appears Fred has ulterior financial motives.

Susan recommended that they amend the petition to be appointed as guardians of both the person and the estate. If successful, the trust fund will be a huge benefit for Johnny. Susan explained that it will also likely require that Tom and Mary obtain a bond to insure against possible wrongful conduct of a party. An inventory, appraisal and yearly accounting of assets will also likely be necessary (Probate Code 2255 and 2256).

After this informative consultation with Susan, Tom and Mary were a little overwhelmed by this new onslaught of information. They were confident, however in Susan’s ability, so they retained her to represent them at the next hearing.

FINAL RESULT: No More Panic

At the next hearing, the reports from the Probate investigator and from Johnny’s counsel recommended that Johnny stay with Tom and Mary. It turned out that Fred had no pre-existing relationship with Johnny. Also, reading between the lines, it appeared that Fred was struggling financially as he was attempting to build a career solely through winning karaoke contests. Tom and Mary clearly offer the best source of stability for Johnny so the court signed the papers for them to be named “General Guardians” of little Johnny.

Tom and Mary and their attorney Susan met outside the courtroom to discuss follow-up details. Susan advised Tom and Mary that a party can always petition to terminate the guardianship in the future, but for now they can concentrate on parenting little Johnny without having any more court hearings and just deal with the regular everyday panic all parents have raising their children.

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