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What is a Guardianship?

A guardianship is a legal process whereby a court appoints an individual (the guardian) to act on behalf of another person (the ward) who lacks capacity to manage their own personal and/or financial affairs due to a disability, age, or other incapacities. This could encompass decision-making in terms of their healthcare, housing, and other critical life affairs.

In Missouri, two types of guardianship exist: guardianship of the person and guardianship of the estate. The former covers personal decisions for the ward, like healthcare and living arrangements, whereas the latter refers to managing the ward’s finances and property. A guardian could be appointed for one or both areas, depending on the ward’s circumstances.

Adult Guardianship Proceedings in Missouri: The Step-by-Step Process

  • Step 1: Initiating the Proceedings

Guardianship proceedings in Missouri commence when someone (petitioner) submits a formal petition to the probate division of the local circuit court. The petitioner could be a family member, a friend, or even a public or private agency. The petition includes necessary information about the proposed ward (respondent) and the reasons why guardianship is needed.

  • Step 2: Attorney Appointed and Medical Affidavit 

Once the petition is submitted, the court appoints an attorney to represent the proposed ward’s interests. The court also requires that a Medical Affidavit be submitted by a qualified professional who has assessed the proposed ward’s physical and mental condition and capability to manage personal and financial affairs. The Medical Affidavit helps the court determine the ward’s level of incapacitation.

  • Step 3: Hearing

After the evaluation, a hearing is held before the judge. Here, the petitioner, the proposed ward, the attorney for the proposed ward, and any other interested parties may testify. Evidence supporting the need for a guardian, such as the evaluation report, is presented. The judge then determines whether the proposed ward is indeed incapacitated and, if so, to what extent.

  • Step 4: Appointment of Guardian

If the judge concludes that the proposed ward is incapacitated and requires a guardian, the court will then appoint an individual as guardian based on the following order: (1) the wishes of the ward; (2) if the ward is unable to communicate, then the person nominated by the ward prior to incapacity in a power of attorney; (3) the ward’s family member(s); and (4) a public administrator. 

Duties and Responsibilities of a Guardian

Once appointed, the guardian assumes a fiduciary responsibility for their ward. Guardians must always act in the ward’s best interest and carry out their duties honestly and diligently. These duties include making decisions about personal care or financial matters, keeping careful records, and reporting periodically to the court about the ward’s condition and the estate’s status.

The court supervises the guardian’s actions closely, with the goal of protecting the ward’s rights and interests. The guardian cannot make certain decisions (like selling the ward’s property or making major medical decisions) without the court’s approval.

The Role of the Court

Missouri courts play an active role in the entire guardianship process. Apart from overseeing the appointment and actions of the guardian, they are responsible for ensuring the ward’s rights are protected. The court can modify the guardianship, increase or limit the guardian’s powers, or even terminate the guardianship if it finds that the ward’s condition has improved.


Navigating the guardianship process can be a complex task, but it’s a critical legal mechanism for protecting our most vulnerable citizens. Understanding the intricacies of guardianship proceedings in Missouri will help you make informed decisions if you find yourself involved in such a process. However, due to its complexity, it is highly recommended to engage a legal professional experienced in guardianship proceedings. They can provide valuable advice and guidance to ensure the best outcome for the ward.

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