Guardianship FAQs

NOTE: The information in these frequently asked questions is about probate guardianships. These cases are brought by the person seeking to be appointed guardian or by someone else in the family asking the court to appoint a guardian.  If custody of the minor was awarded to a non-parent through the juvenile dependency court, this section does NOT apply.
 If Child Protective Services (CPS) is involved in your case, you probably have  to go to the juvenile court to find out what you can do. Find out more about guardianships in  juvenile court.

Guardianship - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can I name a guardian for my children?

A: Yes. You can write a letter naming a guardian for your children and keep it with your important papers or write in your will who you want to be the guardian of your children when you pass away.

But if both parents are dead, the court will decide who the guardian is. The court will try to appoint the person you wanted. But the court will consider what is best for your children and will ask the children what they want.

Q: Can I ask for a guardian for my child if I am dying?

A: If you have an incurable illness, you can ask the court to appoint a joint guardian for your child. (You must have legal custody of the child to do this.) This can make the transition easier when the parent dies. It gives the sick parent the comfort of knowing their child will be safe with the guardian they chose.

If the court approves the joint guardianship, both you and the guardian will act as parents while you are alive. And when you die, the joint guardian will have full custody of the child without another guardianship hearing.

Q: Can a child ask the court for a guardian?

A: Yes. If the child is 12 or older, he or she can ask the court to appoint a guardian.  Some counties have agencies that specialize in representing children. Click for help finding one of these agencies.

Q: What if the parents agree to let me care for their child and do not want to go to court?

A: They can sign a notarized letter that says you have "custody" of the child. The letter should give you permission to make decisions about the child's education and medical care. It is also a good idea to get a medical release for emergencies.

Remember: The parents can cancel this agreement at any time.

Q: What if the parents are not available to sign an agreement with me?

A: If the parents are not available to sign a private agreement, you can fill out a Caregiver's Authorization Affidavit, as long as the child remains in California. It does not need to be signed by the parents. Once you fill it out, have it notarized.

If the person taking care of the child is a relative of the child, this form lets him or her enroll the child in school. It also gives the relative the same rights as a guardian to get medical care, including mental health treatment, for the child. The back of the affidavit has a list of which relatives qualify under this law.

  • If the person taking care of the child is NOT a relative, this form still lets him or her enroll the child in school, but they are only authorized to make medical care decisions that are school related (like immunizations or physical exams required by the school for enrollment).
  • The Caregiver's Authorization Affidavit is not an official court form.
  • The parents do not have to sign the Caregiver's Authorization Affidavit but they can cancel the affidavit at any time.
  • If the child is no longer living with the caregiver, the affidavit is not valid. The caregiver must notify the school and health care provider if the child is no longer living with him or her.

Get a Caregiver's Authorization Affidavit and instructions.  Make sure you read Family Code sections 6550-6552 and Probate Code sections 2353 and 2356 to learn about the specific requirements under the law.

Keep in mind: The parents can cancel this affidavit at any time.

Q: Can I meet all the child's needs with the Caregiver's Authorization Affidavit or a notarized letter from the parents?

A: Maybe not. Here is why:

  • Schools and medical facilities are required by law to accept the Caregiver’s Authorization Affidavit, but it is possible you may come across a lot of resistance and may decide that it is easier to go to court and get a court order giving you legal guardianship.
  • The parents can cancel these forms or a letter at any time and take the child, even if it is not safe for the child.
  • It may be hard for you to get medical insurance for the child unless you are the legal guardian.

Q: What if I do not know where the parents or relatives are?

A: Try to find the parents or relatives by:

  • Asking all family members and friends;
  • Looking in phone books;
  • Calling telephone information; or 
  • Doing anything else you think could help you find them.

Courts have different requirements about what you need to do to find any missing relatives or the parents. Make sure you check with your local court so that you take all the necessary steps. Get more tips on what you can do to find someone.

Once you do everything you need to find the parents or relatives and you still cannot find them, you have to ask the court for permission to continue your case without giving notice to the missing relatives or parents.

Q: What if a parent is out-of-state or in another country?

A: You must still get a server at least 18 years old—NOT you—to personally hand a copy of the court papers you filed to the parent at least 15 days before the court hearing.

If the server was not able to personally serve the parent, you must ask the court for permission to serve by mail.

If the judge signs the order giving you permission to serve by mail, you can have someone—NOT you—serve the parent by mail.

Find more information about Service of Process.

Q: What if 1 or both of the child's parents are in jail?

A: Contact the jail or prison and ask them to personally serve the forms at the jail or prison. If the jail cannot personally serve the papers, you must ask the court for permission to serve by mail.

If the judge signs the order letting you serve the parent in jail by mail, this means you can have someone at least 18 years old—NOT you—serve the court forms by mail to the person in jail.

Q: How can I find someone in jail or prison?

A: To find someone in a California state prison:

To find someone in county jail:

To find someone in federal prison:

If you do not know if a person is in state or federal prison or county jail, search for the person in state and federal prison and the counties where you think the person might be incarcerated.

Q: Can I move outside California with the child?

A: No. You cannot move the child out of California unless you first get permission from the court. If the court agrees, you must establish guardianship in the state you move to. Different states have different rules. Find out what the rules are in the state you want to move to.

Q: What is a blocked account?

A: A blocked account is when a bank, brokerage firm, or other financial institution says no withdrawals can be made without a court order. Often, an account will stay blocked until the child turns 18.

Q: Where can I find more information about guardianships?

A: There are several informational court forms, publications and self-help books that can give you more information about guardianships. Here are a few:

The Guardianship Pamphlet is also available in Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese.

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