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Guardianship in North Carolina

What is a Guardian?

A guardian is a person who is appointed by the court to manage the affairs of adults when they are unable to do so for themselves, or minors who are under the age of eighteen. The child becomes a “ward” of the guardian, who is given the legal right to make decisions for the child. Guardians are legally obligated to act only in the best interest of the ward. In North Carolina, there are mainly two types of guardianship: guardianship of the person and guardianship of the estate.  If a person has both types of guardianship, he or she has the legal title of “general guardian.”

Two types of Guardianship

A person who is awarded guardian of the person (GOP) is legally obligated to make sure the ward is taken care of, and is entitled to physical custody of that person.  GOPs have a legal duty to provide for the ward’s care, comfort, and maintenance, and shall, as appropriate to the ward’s needs, arrange for the ward’s training, education, employment, rehabilitation or habilitation. GOPs also have the right and obligation to consent to “receive medical, legal, psychological, or other professional care, counsel, treatment, or service.  A person who is appointed as guardian of the estate (GOE) is legally obligated to make sure the assets, incomes and general finances of their ward are protected and managed properly.  GOEs have very broad authority to do everything from paying bills to signing contracts and insuring assets.  State law specifically mentions the right to continue the operation of farming and businesses.  GOEs are usually required by law to file an inventory of assets  followed by annual accountings of the assets and income.

Guardianship of Minors

For minors, GOPs are quite rare because a parent or other adult almost always has custody instead of guardianship.  The court may appoint the Director of a county department of social services (DSS) as the acting GOP if the child needs DSS services and he or she has no surviving natural guardian, or the minor has been abandoned. The Director is relieved of this duty once the court appoints a permanent GOP, grants custody to an adult, or the child is adopted. However, the court requires a GOE to be appointed for all minors with income or an estate, including cases where the child lives with parents. Examples of incomes and estates include life insurance proceeds, social security death benefits, or settlements in personal injury cases. GOEs for a minor are required to file annual accountings for the minor’s assets and income.

Guardians Ad Litem

A GAL is different from the guardians explained above because they can be appointed by the court when minors or people with limited capacity are faced with a lawsuit. GALs are appointed for minors, unborn children whose rights are at issue, and for adults who have a limited ability to meet the challenges of being a party to a lawsuit, such as advanced age or illness for example.


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