In California, when a child's parents are unable to care for the child, an adult guardian of the person must be appointed to care for the child. In addition, if a child inherits property, a guardian of the estate must usually be appointed to manage the child's property.
Guardianship of the Estate:
Even if a child lives with one or both parents, a guardianship is generally required if the child inherits property more than $20,000. (Smaller inheritances can often be held in a "custodianship" under California Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA), or can be distributed to the child's parents.)
The guardian must file a petition in the Probate Court. There is a $193.00 filing fee, which may vary from county to county and sometimes waived for those with very low incomes. A bond must also be purchased from an insurance company unless the money will be deposited in a "blocked account" with a bank or brokerage. After the court appoints a guardian, an inventory and appraisal must be filed, and annual or bi-annual accountings must also be filed with the court until the child reaches age 18.
Guardianship of the Person:
In general, a guardianship of the person should be obtained whenever a child is permanently living with someone other than a parent. Historically, this occurred when both parents died, or when one parent died and the other was absent or unable to care for the child. Unfortunately, in our modern society, most guardianships now occur because both parents are alive but are unable to provide a safe, secure home for the child. Occasionally grandparents will seek guardianship because the children's parents suffer from serious personal problems, including drug abuse and alcoholism.