Starting January 1, 2021, Washington state will adopt new laws regulating minor guardianship. Legislators hope these laws address problems with the existing guardianship laws. Loose guardianship laws have allowed individuals to take advantage of assigned wards, especially minors.

The new law will also repeal the old law, restructuring much of Washington’s guardianship process. Understanding these changes can help families and wards protect themselves from bad faith guardians and legal loopholes.

Why was a new law needed?

Lawmakers spent much of 2020 debating why the need for new guardianship laws. These new laws, built from the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Other Protective Arrangements Act, hope to address shortcomings in protecting wards’ rights. The new statute maintains that the “liberty and autonomy [of wards] should not be restricted through guardianship” and builds new rules from that foundation.

What the law changes

The new law primarily addresses how courts assign emergency guardians. Under the old law, courts would sometimes rush to appoint a permanent guardian to address immediate legal concerns. These quickly chosen guardians were often unqualified and would take advantage of their wards. The new laws allow courts to assign temporary, 60-day guardians with limited legal power over their ward.

To assign an emergency guardian, courts must prove that:

  • An emergency exists, and that a guardian would help protect the welfare of the ward against said emergency
  • Other alternatives cannot meet the needs of the ward
  • The ward received proper notice of the guardianship hearing

Additionally, the court may only grant the guardian the “specific powers necessary to meet the identified emergency need.” Lawmakers hope these efforts prevent cases of guardianship abuse.

Applying for guardianship? Bring your questions to a lawyer

Those applying for guardianship may have questions about their application or risk to their proposed ward. You can find answers from a local attorney familiar with Washington’s guardianship laws.