Knoxville Guardianship Attorneys

If your loved ones have special needs, we can help you protect them

A legal guardian has one of the most important jobs in, well, life. You step up and take responsibility for another person’s personal and legal interests. The court assigns a legal guardian when another person, whether a child or adult, can’t take care of themselves or their interests – either because they’re too young or are incapacitated/disabled in some way.

One of the most common, and heartbreaking, examples of guardianship in Tennessee is when the parents of a minor child pass away and the court assigns a guardian for the child’s care. But there are a lot of other types of guardianships, too. The Knoxville family law attorneys at LaFevor & Slaughter know these matters can be emotional and come along with a lot of other legal issues. We don’t want you to worry about all the legal stuff. You need to focus on your new role and responsibilities. We’ll protect your loved one’s rights with everything we’ve got.

What does “guardianship” mean, exactly?

You love your kids. That’s why you should have a designated guardian; just in case something awful happens to you and your co-parent. If you don’t, the court will name for you. Courts always work in the “best interest of the child,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gonna be someone you want, or even like. Assigning a guardian ensures that if tragedy hits, your kids go where you feel they’ll be okay. And you know your kids and loved ones the best.

Not all guardianships (sometimes called conservatorships) are the same, and depending on your situation, Tennessee law offers a few different kinds:

  • Guardian ad litem— usually an attorney who makes legal decision on behalf of a child
  • Guardian of the estate— a person charged with managing an inheritance for a minor
  • Guardian of the person— an adult who takes responsibility for the health and welfare of a child
  • Plenary guardian— a guardian who combines the responsibilities of the estate and the person
  • Emergency or interim guardian— appointed on a temporary basis due to immediate need

LaFevor & Slaughter helps adults apply to become guardians, but we don’t stop after that. Guardianship is a powerful thing, so we’ll make sure you have a thorough understanding on your responsibilities and the rights of your loved one. Our firm also advises parents on child custody issues for those who are undergoing divorce or legal separation.

Can I become a guardian for my elderly parent?

It’s not something we want to think about, but everybody gets old. For most of us there comes a point in life where our parents need our help. Sadly, though, elderly people who are losing the capacity to act in their own best interests often resist your attempts to assume control. If your parents or older relatives will not sign a power of attorney granting you authority, it may be necessary to obtain a court order appointing you as their guardian. We can help you seek guardianship with the compassion your loved one deserves.

Can I be a guardian for a disabled adult?

Just as a dependent spouse may need alimony following a divorce, an adult with disabilities also needs some form of permanent financial maintenance. When planning for the needs of a disabled adult, you have competing interests going and things can get tricky. You want to provide enough resources for their lifetime, but you also want them to qualify for benefits, which are based on need. Transferring assets outright will disqualify them, and out-of-pocket expenses will eat away at their assets. The Knoxville attorneys at LaFevor & Slaughter designs special needs trusts and supplemental needs trusts that allow adults with disabilities to qualify for benefits but still purchase additional goods necessary for their health and well-being.

How do I get guardianship of my grandchild?

Grandchildren are one of the great joys in life. You may end up raising your grandkids for any number of reasons – typically when the parent or parents are unable or unwilling to care for their child. Some grandparents might consider adopting the child, but sometimes legal guardianship is a better and more effective solution. Guardianship will let you make decisions on behalf of your grandchild, consent to medical treatment, and generally have all the rights of a parent without actually terminating the parents’ rights.

Guardianship and child custody sound pretty much the same. What’s the difference?

Yep, they are pretty similar, but not the same. Here’s the basic gist. If a parent is temporarily unavailable for whatever reason (maybe deployment overseas, disabling medical procedure, or incarceration), a legal guardianship might be optimal. On the other hand, child custody decisions are meant to be permanent. Once a judge approves a custody decree, if you need to get it changed later, you’re gonna have to go back to court.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the court can make custody rulings without the consent of the parent. Our attorneys can help you navigate these waters so you can make the best decisions for your loved one.

Custody v Guardianship

What makes a parent unfit?

We get this question a LOT from our clients. There’s way too much misinformation out there with parents threatening each other, accusing the other of being unfit, relatives accusing both parents of being unfit, and all sorts of other unpleasant stuff in an attempt to get guardianship or custody. Let’s look at the facts.

Tennessee law lays out exactly what makes a parent (or parents) unfit for custody. If a judge finds parents unfit for custody, they can drastically reduce time with the child or even mandate they give up their parental rights. This includes abandonment, chronic drug use, domestic or child abuse, and failing to provide for the child’s needs.

Do I need an attorney to file for guardianship or conservatorship in Tennessee?

Establishing a guardianship or conservatorship is a legal action, so you’ll want to have a lawyer. It can be a complex process with a lot of moving parts, putting you in charge of the major decisions about the life of your loved one. This really isn’t the time for cutting corners or bargain shopping; let’s put it that way.

Our attorneys work with you, get to know you and your loved one, and prepare a petition to file with the court. The laws around guardianships are pretty specific, and we know how to write a proper petition with all the right info and documentation.

What are the rights of the child or adult?

The person for whom you’re filing guardianship (also called a “ward,” which is kind of old-fashioned but there you have it), has certain rights. These include the right to:

  • Be present at the court hearing
  • Contest an application for guardianship
  • Get a record of the hearing
  • Have a trusted family member or friend present at the hearing
  • Proper representation by an attorney

The ward also has the right to offer a less drastic alternative than guardianship.

LaFevor & Slaughter helps you help your loved ones

If you’re the responsible party in the life of a child or disabled adult, you need to plan carefully for every eventuality, including your absence from their lives. LaFevor & Slaughter drafts legal safeguards to be implemented if you are suddenly unable to care for a dependent loved one. Or, if a previously independent loved one begins to act erratically and can no longer be expected to make responsible decisions, we can help you obtain the legal authority to act for his or her welfare.

Contact a dedicated Knoxville guardianship and special needs lawyer

We understand and appreciate the bonds of affection between you and your vulnerable loved ones and share your desire to see them protected. LaFevor & Slaughter is dedicated to helping minors and vulnerable adults live safe and thriving lives. To schedule a consultation with one of our Tennessee attorneys, call us at (865) 637-6258 or fill out our contact form today.