What is the role of a Guardian Ad Litem?

Literally, a Guardian Ad Litem is a "guardian for the suit." The specific role of a Guardian Ad Litem in a case depends on the nature of the Court appointment. In the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court, Guardians Ad Litem are frequently appointed to investigate or evaluate a particular issue and report back to the Court, or represent an individual who has an interest in the case, sometimes referred to as a Guardian Ad Litem/Next Friend.

A Guardian Ad Litem appointed in the role of Investigator is an attorney who may be appointed in family law or probate matters.  Family law cases typically use Guardians Ad Litem to investigate and report on issues of child custody, parenting plans, parental fitness in guardianship matters, removal issues (where one parent wants to relocate to another state with a minor child), or any other issue the Court deems appropriate to have investigated by a Guardian Ad Litem. Sometimes in addition to reporting on the investigated issues, the Court also orders the Guardian Ad Litem to provide recommendations on the particular issue.

In probate matters, Guardians Ad Litem appointed as Investigators are usually involved in the review of estate, trust, or guardianship accounts which have been submitted for Court allowance. In these types of cases, the Guardian Ad Litem checks for any irregularities in the accounts, investments, and distributions, and generally ensures that the funds are being used for the correct purposes.

A Guardian Ad Litem appointed in the role of Evaluator is usually a mental health professional appointed in a family law case to evaluate and/or conduct psychological testing for a particular issue the Court deems salient to the case at hand. Some types of issues that may warrant the appointment of an Evaluator include alcohol and/or substance abuse, sexual abuse, cognitive disorders, mental health issues, anger management, or suicidality.

A Guardian Ad Litem/Next Friend is an attorney who may be appointed in both family law and probate matters. In family law cases, the appointment is usually made for individuals who are minors, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to represent themselves. This type of appointment is more akin to traditional legal representation, except where the Court wants substituted judgment, where the Guardian Ad Litem/Next Friend “stands in” for the appointee, to voice the position the individual would have, if they were not a minor or incapacitated in some fashion.

In probate matters, a Guardian Ad Litem/Next Friend is often appointed to represent the interests of unborn or unascertained individuals, or a class of individuals, if there is a will or trust with minor or potentially unascertained beneficiaries who would have an interest in the outcome of the case.

Basically, a Guardian Ad Litem Investigator or Evaluator is appointed to gather information for the Court on relevant issues that the Court deems pertinent to deciding the legal matter. The Guardian Ad Litem/Next Friend generally represents or stands in for an individual the Court feels has legal interests that need to be represented or protected. In all cases where a Guardian Ad Litem is appointed, the specific appointment is tailored to the individual circumstances of the case, with the idea that the Court can make better, more informed decisions with the information or assistance provided by the Guardian Ad Litem.

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