In this article...

In this article we will discuss everything there is to know regarding guardianship in Iowa, including:

  • Types of Guardianships in Iowa
  • Who Is Eligible to Become a Guardian in Iowa?
  • Guardianship vs Conservatorship in Iowa
  • Guardianship vs Power of Attorney in Iowa
  • Guardianship vs Adoption in Iowa
  • The Guardianship Process in Iowa
  • What Powers do Guardians have?
  • Post-Hearing Requirements of a Guardian
  • Terminating an Iowa Guardianship

Have you considered pursuing guardianship over an adult or minor in Iowa, but are not sure where to begin? In this article we will discuss everything there is to know regarding guardianship in Iowa, including:

  • Types of Guardianships in Iowa
  • Who Is Eligible to Become a Guardian in Iowa?
  • Guardianship vs Conservatorship in Iowa
  • Guardianship vs Power of Attorney in Iowa
  • Guardianship vs Adoption in Iowa
  • The Guardianship Process in Iowa
  • What Powers do Guardians have?
  • Post-Hearing Requirements of a Guardian
  • Terminating an Iowa Guardianship

Types of Guardianships in Iowa

In Iowa, one can petition the court to appoint a guardian for a minor or for an adult. In the case of a minor, if one or more of the biological parents are alive and capable of taking care of the minor protected person, it can be difficult to prove to the court the necessity of a guardian. However, there are some circumstances under which a minor may need a guardian, including: the parents both provide written consent relinquishing custody of the child; the parents are deemed incapable of providing for the child; or the parents have previously compromised the child’s safety, etc.  

The most common type of guardianship in Iowa, however, is for an incapacitated adult. The adult can become incapacitated due to a sudden accident or physical disease. Regardless of the cause, a guardian may be appointed for an adult who is either partially or fully incapable of making sound decisions regarding their own well-being or financial affairs. The court will conduct a comprehensive evaluation, complete with assessments from medical or behavioral specialists, a review of the protected person’s social history or the results of an intelligence test before making their decision on whether a guardian should be appointed.  

For more information about the types of court-appointed guardianships in Iowa, check out our article Iowa Court Appointed Guardians | Iowa Guardianship Explained (oflaherty-law.com). For more information specifically about guardianship of an adult in Iowa, visit How to File for Guardianship for a Disabled Adult in Iowa.

Who Is Eligible to Become a Guardian in Iowa?

Any competent adult who has not been convicted of a serious crime and is a legal resident of the United States is eligible to become a guardian in Iowa. Iowa prefers to appoint guardians that also reside in Iowa with the protected person, so that they can stay abreast of the protected person’s condition. However, it is possible for Iowa to appoint a guardian that is out-of-state for good cause or if a resident of Iowa is also appointed. The Court may appoint more than one person wishes to serve in that capacity as co-guardians. There is no statutory limit on the number of co-guardians that can serve, but Iowa does not recommend more than two.  

The guardian may petition the Court to become a guardian themselves, to appoint someone else as a guardian for another person, or may petition the court on their own behalf to have someone appointed as their guardian.  

Guardianship vs Conservatorship in Iowa

In a guardianship, the court appoints a guardian to make decisions about the protected person’s personal affairs, such as where the protected person lives, medical care and other non-financial decisions. In a conservatorship, a conservator is appointed to handle the protected person’s property and other financial affairs. It is possible for one person to be appointed as guardian and conservator of the same protected person.  

Guardianship vs Power of Attorney in Iowa

Guardianships take away all of a protected person’s decision-making authority. Thus, they are very restrictive. They are also costly, since they require court appearances and orders. Due to this, the law requires that the Court consider the “least restrictive alternative”, or the alternative that allows the protected person to remain as independent as possible, before a guardianship is approved. An example of a least-restrictive method to help an incapacitated adult make decisions, includes a durable power of attorney. In Iowa, an adult can appoint another competent adult as their power of attorney for health care if a guardianship is more restrictive than necessary for the protected person. This gives the appointed attorney-in-fact the authority to make decisions regarding a broad range of future medical decisions, such as care, treatment and healthcare services. A different kind of power of attorney can be given to a competent adult in place of a conservatorship to provide a less-restrictive method of helping a protected person make financial decisions.  

Guardianship vs Adoption in Iowa

Unlike guardianship, adoption terminates the rights of the biological parents. The adoptive parents then enjoy exclusive legal custody of the child. Adoption is also permanent, and the biological parents will not be able to recover their rights in the future. Therefore, the biological parents are also permanently relieved of the duty to provide for the child financially. For more information on the adoption process in Iowa, visit The Iowa Adoption Process Explained (oflaherty-law.com).

In a guardianship of a minor, the biological parents’ rights remain intact. The guardian essentially stands in for the parents, by order of the Court. Since the biological parents retain their rights, they may still be required to provide financial support for the minor, depending upon the circumstances. In addition, guardianships are temporary, and automatically expire once the child reaches the age of eighteen.  

The Guardianship Process in Iowa

The guardianship process begins when someone files a petition for guardianship with the district or juvenile court of the county where the protected person lives. The petition must state the reason that the guardianship is necessary and must also name the relevant parties, including the name and address of the protected person and the proposed guardian(s). Notice will then be provided to the protected person and a guardian ad litem, or attorney to represent the protected person’s interests, will be appointed. The Court will then conduct a hearing on the matter.  

The court must find that two things are true before they can appoint a guardian:

  1. The protected person (or Respondent) is incapable of making personal decisions; and  
  1. The proposed guardian (often Petitioner) meets the eligibility criteria of a guardian

For more information regarding the guardianship process and hearing in Iowa, check out our article entitled Iowa Guardianship FAQ.  

What Powers do Guardians have?

Iowa prefers to limit a guardian’s powers to those that are absolutely necessary for the benefit of the protected person.  In the case of a minor, the powers given to a guardian are much the same as those of a parent. In the case of an adult guardianship, there is a wide spectrum of powers that could be given to the appointed guardian. A limited guardianship limits the powers of the guardian to those actions specifically stated in the guardianship order. On the other hand, a general or plenary guardianship gives the guardian almost full control over the guardian’s affairs.  

Post-Hearing Requirements of a Guardian

Once a guardian is appointed, the Court will enter a written order. The newly appointed guardian must then take what is called a Court Officer’s Oath. This document discusses the fiduciary duties of a guardian. These duties include the guardian’s responsibility to account for their activities as guardian truthfully and to exercise their duties with diligence and care, among other responsibilities. The guardian will then be issued their Letters of Appointment. Each year following the hearing, the guardian will be required to file a report with the court detailing the current residence and condition of the protected person, as well as the guardian’s activities on the ward’s behalf.  

Terminating an Iowa Guardianship

Terminating a guardianship can be difficult, so it is very important to consider the consequences of consenting to a guardianship in the first place. For guardianship of a minor, if no action is taken to terminate the guardianship, it will remain in effect until the child reaches the age of majority, or age eighteen (18). For guardianship of an adult, the guardianship will remain in effect until the court determines it is no longer necessary. Therefore, action is required to terminate an adult guardianship in Iowa.  

In order to terminate a guardianship early, one must file a Petition for Termination of Guardianship with the court in which the guardianship was originally awarded. If the guardians do not voluntarily release their rights as guardians, the court will hold a hearing to determine whether the guardianship is still necessary.  For more, visit How To Terminate Guardianship of a Minor and Regain Parental Rights in Iowa. In the case of temporary guardianships that have been awarded due to an emergency, these automatically terminate after 30 days and do not require a petition to terminate.  

If you have additional questions about pursuing a guardianship in Iowa, request a consultation with an attorney. Call our office at (630) 324-6666 or schedule a consultation with one of our experienced family lawyers today. You can also fill out our confidential contact form and we will get back to you shortly.

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