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Iowa Court Appointed Guardians | Iowa Guardianship Explained

Article written by Illinois & Iowa Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
May 15, 2020

In this article, we explain court-appointed guardianship in Iowa and discuss the following topics:

  • What is an Iowa court-appointed guardian?
  • What level of power does a court-appointed guardian have in Iowa?
  • Court-appointed guardians for minors in Iowa
  • Court-appointed guardians for adults in Iowa
  • Who can be a court-appointed guardian in Iowa?

What is an Iowa Court-Appointed Guardian?

A court-appointed guardian is an individual who has been granted legal authority by an Iowa court to care for and take responsibility for another individual who is unable to legally take care of herself and make decisions or is incapacitated and unable to care for herself and make decisions. The court must determine that the potential nonparent guardian will act in the best interest of the ward. 

The responsibilities of a court-appointed guardian in Iowa vary depending on those assigned by the court. Iowa tends to err on the side of limiting a guardian’s powers to only those absolutely necessary. The powers that a guardian has in Iowa ultimately fall into two categories:

  1. Decisions, responsibilities, and actions that can be taken without prior approval by the courts; and
  2. Decisions, responsibilities, and actions that require prior approval by the courts.

An example of actions that usually don’t require prior court approval includes: providing a comfortable, caring and nurturing environment for the ward, taking reasonable care of the ward’s clothing, home, furnishings, etc, assisting the ward in receiving medical care, personal counseling, treatment, etc. All these things are the normal day-to-day activities that if required court approval before doing would make the guardian process extremely cumbersome.

What Level of Power Does a Court-Appointed Guardian Have in Iowa?

The amount of court supervision over the guardianship ultimately depends on what the court determines the ward will need in the present and future. In the case of a minor, the level of guardianship is pretty straightforward, but for an adult ward, there may be a wide spectrum of what decisions and responsibilities the ward can and cannot handle on his own.

A general or plenary guardianship gives the guardian nearly full control over responsibilities and decision-making power for the ward, while a limited guardianship usually assigns a specific set of responsibilities for the guardian while retaining as much freedom for the ward as possible.

Court-Appointed Guardians for Minors in Iowa

Iowa observes the superior rights of parents to maintain custody and care over their biological children. Therefore, if one or both parents are still living and capable and willing to care for and have custody over their child, it can be very difficult to petition the courts to appoint a new guardian for the child. However, there are many circumstances that call the well-being and best interests of the child into question and may warrant a court-appointed guardian. Reasons that a petition for guardianship would be granted include:

  • The parents have voluntarily relinquished custody of the child, or can no longer physically take care of the child;
  • The parents have provided consent to a potential guardian, either through written, signed, and notarized documentation or in court, in front of a judge;
  • Each parent has failed to appear to a scheduled court hearing, that they were given notice of prior to the court date;
  • Each parent has been deemed unable and unwilling to care for a child in a court of law;
  • The parents have knowingly and willfully compromised the child’s safety on more than one occasion.

The potential guardian must be deemed appropriate by the court. The guardian can be a relative or nonrelated person, and typically should be a resident of Iowa. Minors above the age of 14 can also petition the court to appoint a guardian.

Court-Appointed Guardians for Adults

The most common type of court-appointed guardianship in Iowa is guardianship for an incapacitated adult. This type of guardianship includes everything from adults who have been in sudden accidents and left with an inability to complete a mental or physical task to adults succumbing to mental or physical diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. The adult does not have to be completely physically or mentally incapacitated to require a guardian. Generally, for the court to appoint a guardian for an adult, the individual with a disability must lack the ability to make sound decisions regarding there own well being and/or financial issues. 

A petition for guardianship can be made by any individual concerned about the well-being of the potential ward, but the petition must contain the reasoning behind the guardianship request. A form must be filled out prior to petitioning indicating the potential ward’s level of disability; appropriate medical documentation should be included that supports the need for guardianship. A hearing will be held during which the petitioner’s side will present their evidence and arguments for guardianship and family members or any opposed to the guardianship can object at the hearing. Depending on the degree of incapacitation, the court may grant a limited guardianship, listing what duties and responsibilities the guardian has control over, or plenary (full) guardianship.

Who Can Be a Court-Appointed Guardian in Iowa?

Any individual over the age of 18, of sound mind, not convicted of a serious crime, and is a legal resident of the United State can be a court-appointed guardian in Iowa if the court supports the petition. There are a number of agencies that can assist with the day-to-day of guardianship duties and can even legally act as the guardian of an incapacitated adult in Iowa. The most important first step to take when considering petitioning for guardianship of an adult or child in Iowa is to contact an experienced family law attorney. Please don’t hesitate to give O’Flaherty Law a call at 630-324-6666 with any questions or concerns regarding guardianship in Iowa.

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