A guardian is a person recognized or appointed by the court to handle ownership duties of a property for someone who is not competent to do so. Guardianship can be appointed because a person is a minor or is mentally or physically disabled. The guardian much be of legal age and must be determined to be responsible. There are interchangeable terms for a guardian, including, conservator, receiver, tutor, and curator.

Contrary to common belief, an orphan can have a living parent. There are two ways that a minor can be classified as an orphan. The first is if his or her father is deceased. The second is if the child has inherited separately owned property from a deceased mother. In either case, the legal responsibility of managing the minor’s property is given to a guardian until he or she becomes an adult. The child might be referred to as a ward or infant during this time. Often the living parent will be appointed as guardian, without the implication of adoption.

Sometimes a different court than probate handles the appointment of a guardian for a minor in a separate proceeding. If it is an adult whose property is coming under guardianship, there may be two separate proceedings to accomplish this. First, the adult must be declared incompetent to handle his or her own property. The next process to appoint the guardian.