It is not uncommon for people to talk to estate planning attorneys about concerns they have surrounding guardians and a guardian ad litem. Some of these questions involve the idea of a guardian ad litem. While guardians and guardians ad litem serve similar purposes, they also have very different roles in the law. To help clarify and prevent any potential confusion, today we’re going to take a closer look at the difference between a guardian and a guardian ad litem.
Guardians and Guardianships
A guardian is someone who has the legal authority to care for a person who cannot make decisions on his or her own, or who is otherwise incapacitated and unable to care for him or herself. A guardian can be any person, or even an institution, that is legally capable of making decisions on behalf of someone else. Only a Florida court can appoint a guardian, though in some situations other people can influence or direct the courts decision.
A guardianship proceeding is the legal process in which a Florida court will determine who the guardian for an incapacitated person should be. Prior to that, the court will have to make a finding that the person at question is actually incapacitated. If so, that person, who becomes known as a ward, will be placed under the care of a guardian who will have the ability to make decisions on his or her behalf.
Guardians can be named for either children or incapacitated adults, both of whom do not have the legal ability to make decisions on their own. Though there are some differences between guardianship proceedings for children and adults, the guardian’s role is almost identical in either case.
Guardian ad Litem
A guardian ad litem plays a specific role in the Florida legal system. “Ad litem” is Latin for “for the suit,” and is used to refer to guardians who play a specific role in various types of legal proceedings. Most commonly, guardians ad litem are present when a court is considering a matter that involves the interests of a child, such as a child abuse or neglect situation, a divorce in which child custody is an issue, paternity cases, and even contested inheritances.
In such situations, the minor child, or an incapacitated adult, cannot represent his or her own interests. The guardian ad litem is there to serve as an advocate for that person’s interests, but only for the duration of the legal case at hand. Once the case is over, so too is the guardian ad litem’s role in the matter. So, while guardians ad litem may be present in various legal cases, they do not have anywhere near the ability to make decisions on behalf of a child or incapacitated adult as a guardian does.