What is a Property Guardian?

Lori Smith

A property guardian is an individual, usually appointed by a U.S. probate court judge, who oversees the assets of someone incapable of doing it for themselves — either because of age or disability. The assigned custodian is responsible for using funds only for the benefit of the disabled person, and keeps accurate records to justify expenditures. He or she assumes certain responsibilities, such as bill paying, making investment decisions, or otherwise ensuring that the money or property is used to benefit the disabled individual.

A judge may assign a property guardian to oversee a person's assets.
A judge may assign a property guardian to oversee a person's assets.

In order to qualify and serve as a property guardian, an applicant is usually required to submit to fingerprinting and a background check. This is done to be sure that the person has not been involved in any criminal activity. Many times, a credit check is also performed. He or she must prove to be financially and morally sound. Usually, the applicant resides within close proximity to the disabled person.

Property guardians are fingerprinted during the authorization process.
Property guardians are fingerprinted during the authorization process.

In some cases, the property guardian is required to post a bond with the court. The bond acts as an insurance policy to guarantee that the ward’s assets will not be used inappropriately. This often occurs when the value exceeds a certain denomination, which may vary by region, or in other instances when deemed appropriate by the court.

Since the court retains the ultimate supervision of the estate, the property guardian is responsible for submitting a detailed inventory, or accounting, to the court on an annual basis. The inventory is a description of all assets and liabilities of the disabled person’s estate, including all payments made on behalf of the ward. Any changes to banking information, investments, sales of properties, or other financial decisions made for the benefit of the disabled person are noted on the annual accounting report.

If the property belongs to a minor, many times the child’s parents will assume the role, which still requires a judge’s authorization, in most cases. Sometimes, a child will be awarded a financial settlement in a lawsuit or insurance claim, and other times, the property may be a house or other item of value acquired through an estate. When a parent becomes a property guardian, he or she is also required to submit to all pre-screening procedures and file annual accounting reports. Additionally, the parent is restricted to use the child’s assets for the benefit of that child only. Approved expenses may include medical bills or tuition, but does not usually cover basic support, such as food and shelter, unless a judge gives prior authorization.

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