Filing for Guardianship in WA: Steps to Protect Your Family
This past week I prepared pro se divorce forms for the mother of an adult with special needs. After completing the divorce she plans to file for guardianship of her 22-year-old son. She doesn’t have a lot of extra money for legal services, so she asked if she can file for guardianship in Washington State without an attorney?
Yes, it is possible to become a guardian without an attorney. Keep in mind the process is complicated, so advice from an expert can only help you. Although, if you can’t afford legal fees or you’re just a do it yourselfer with the time to learn, you can file for guardianship on your own. This post is designed to make the process as easy to understand as possible.
Table of Contents
A. First Steps
- Who can use this guide?
- Deciding if guardianship is the best option
- Are there risks with self-representation?
- How to use this guide?
- How long will it take to complete?
- Who is eligible to act as a guardian?
- How much does it cost?
B. The Paperwork – Preparing the Documents & Filing
- Which documents are required?
- What are general rules for filling out the forms?
- Do I file everything at once?
- Where do I go to start the case?
- How do I file?
C. The Court Date
- What do I do if the court schedules a hearing?
- What to expect at the hearing?
- Final steps to finalize the process
Who can use this guide?
Originally this guide was designed to help special needs parents file for guardianship of their children who were turning 18, but it can be used by all individuals filing for guardianship in Washington. Whether filing for an elderly grandparent or a son with Downs Syndrome, the principles and steps will be the same.
Deciding if guardianship is the best option
This question is always situational, so what you want to evaluate is whether there are any less invasive options that would still help you protect your loved one. The reason I say invasive is that guardianship, requires court dates, lots of paperwork and annual reports to maintain the guardianship.
Some people find that a power of attorney is an acceptable alternative to guardianship, but there are risks with this since a person can transfer power of attorney at anytime. Also, a person with specials needs has to have the mental capacity to understand the power of attorney, which often is not the case.
Are there risks to self-representation?
If you can afford an attorney, we recommend that you schedule time to at least review your petition prior to filing with the court. Sometimes going solo can lead to delays in the process if a step is missed or paperwork is improperly filled out. This post is not a substitute for legal advice and if you represent yourself we can’t guarantee a positive outcome.
Although we believe this guide to be thorough, new rules and regulations can change the legal landscape, so a face-to-face meeting with a lawyer can ensure you’re getting the most up to date legal information. We know you can be successful on your own, but the advice of an expert may save you time at court and give you confidence that everything is in order. An attorney can also reinforce what you’ll need to do in order to maintain the guardianship, so it doesn’t lapse.
If you choose to not consult an attorney, be sure to speak with the clerk of the court. A clerk will help you obtain copies of any local forms. Often courts have forms specific to that county, which won’t be included in this guide. The clerk can also assist you in scheduling your guardianship case.
Please note that being appointed guardian is serious business. Guardians can be held personally responsible for not fulfilling required duties and can be held in contempt of court for failing to appear at a hearing or not submitting required reports. Consider working with an attorney who can help you meet deadlines and remove some personal responsibility from you.
How to use this guide?
- Critically read this guide. If you choose to file for guardianship without an attorney you’ll need to be detail oriented, so make sure you follow each step.
- Download and print the forms linked to this guide. You’ll need to file them in court once you’re ready.
- Fill out the required forms and file them in the county court, where the person who needs a guardian lives. For example, if you live in Pierce County and you are applying for guardianship of your daughter who lives primarily with her mother in King County, you will file the forms in King County.
How long will it take?
You should expect to complete the guardianship process in roughly 60 days from your first court date.
Who is eligible to act as a guardian?
Any person at least 18 years old can act as guardian, with some exceptions. Individuals will be disqualified if the court finds they are of unsound mind, they were convicted of a felony, or if they were convicted of a misdemeanor involving immorality. If you have specific eligibility concerns, refer to the Washington statute, RCW 11.88.020, which outlines who may act as guardian in detail.
How much does it cost?
If the person who needs a guardian has less than $3000 of assets the Court will allow you to file the papers for free and will also appoint the Guardian ad Litem at public expense. If this is the case, be sure to ask for a fee waiver. You’ll need to fill out a fee waiver form and present it in ex parte court for approval.
If the fees are not waived, the filing fee is $240. You may also need to pay the hourly rate of the Guardian ad Litem. The filing fee and GAL rates vary so contact the county clerk if you have questions about the fees.
The Paperwork – Preparing the Documents & Filing
Which documents are required?
(Please note the links below will send you to King County’s guardianship forms. If you’re filing in another county visit your local court website and download the forms there. The header will be unique in each county and the documents may have slight differences)
- Petition for Guardianship
- Order Appointing Guardian ad Litem
- Notice of Guardianship Petition
- Declaration of Service
- Order Appointing Guardian
- Declaration of Proposed Guardian
- Oath of Guardian
- Declaration of Completing Mandated Guardianship Training
- Designation of Standby Guardian
- Initial Personal Care Plan
- Guardianship Inventory
What are general rules for filling out the forms?
- Complete the forms in black or blue ink.
- Make sure to include the proper caption and case number on the first page of each form. The caption is the case name and goes in the upper left portion of the page, there will be a designated area on the form. The case number will go in the header area as well. You will be assigned a case number after you file the petition.
Do I file everything at once?
To start the case you’ll just need a Petition for Guardianship and an Order Appointing a Guardian ad Litem. Follow the two steps below to start. We’ll cover the rest of the forms later on.
First, fill in the Petition for Guardianship (#1). You’ll need to add the case caption, which is the name of the person you are seeking guardianship for. Ignore the case number, since you won’t be assigned one yet.
Note: Item 5 gives you the option to waive the filing fee if the individual has less than $3000 of assets. Typically this is the case when a parent is filing for a special needs child, so make sure to take advantage of that.
Second, fill out the caption of the Order Appointing Guardian ad Litem (#2). Other than the caption, you can leave the rest of the form blank. The Court Clerk is required to take action by completing the form, which will appoint a Guardian ad Litem.
The Guardian ad Litem will represent the person who needs a guardian. Their job is to protect the person who needs a guardian and make sure that the guardianship is in the best interest of the person.
Where do I go to start the case?
This depends on where the individual lives who needs guardianship. You’ll need to attend ex parte court in the county that the person lives and present the petition and order you’ve prepared.
Below are addresses for each county superior court, as well as the phone number to the Clerk’s office. It’s always best to call the Clerk’s office ahead of time. Clerk’s are very helpful and can answer most of your questions, including when ex parte hearings are available and in what room.
County Courthouses & Clerk Phone Numbers
- Adams County
- Superior Court: 210 W Broadway Ave Ritzville, WA 99169
- Clerk’s Office: 509-659-3257
- Asotin County
- Superior Court: 135 2nd St Asotin, WA 99402
- Clerk’s Office: 509-243-2081
- Benton County
- Superior Court: 7122 W Okanogan Pl, Bldg. A Kennewick, WA 99336
- Clerk’s Office: 509-735-8388
- Chelan County
- Superior Court: 401 Washington St, Fl. 5 Wenatchee, WA 98801
- Clerk’s Office: 509-667-6380
- Clallam County
- Superior Court: 223 E 4th St Port Angeles, WA 98362
- Clerk’s Office: 360-417-2231
- Clark County
- Superior Court: 1200 Franklin St Vancouver, WA 98660
- Clerk’s Office: 360-397-2292
- Columbia County
- Superior Court: 341 E Main St Dayton, WA 99328
- Clerk’s Office: 509-382-4321
- Cowlitz County
- Superior Court: 312 SW 1st Ave, Fl. 2 Kelso, WA 98626
- Clerk’s Office: 360-577-3016
- Douglas County
- Superior Court: 203 S Rainier Waterville, WA 98858
- Clerk’s Office: 509-745-8529
- Ferry County
- Superior Court: 350 E Delaware Ave Republic, WA 99166
- Clerk’s Office: 509-775-5225
- Franklin County
- Superior Court: 1016 N 4th Ave Pasco, WA 99301
- Clerk’s Office: 509-545-3525
- Garfield County
- Superior Court: 789 Main Street Pomeroy, WA 99347
- Clerk’s Office: 509-843-3731
- Grant County
- Superior Court: 35 C St. NW, Fl. 2 Ephrata, WA 98823
- Clerk’s Office: 509-754-2011
- Grays Harbor County
- Superior Court: 102 W Broadway Ave Montesano, WA 98563
- Clerk’s Office: 360-249-3842
- Island County
- Superior Court: 101 NE 6th St, Fl. 1 Coupeville, WA 98239
- Clerk’s Office: 360-679-7359 Ext. 6
- Jefferson County
- Superior Court: 1820 Jefferson St. Port Townsend, WA 98368
- Clerk’s Office: 360-385-9125
- King County
- Superior Court: 516 3rd Ave Seattle, WA 98104
- Clerk’s Office: 206-296-9300
- Kitsap County
- Superior Court: 614 Division St Port Orchard, WA 98366
- Clerk’s Office: 360-337-7164
- Kittitas County
- Superior Court: 205 W 5th Ave Ellensburg, WA 98926
- Clerk’s Office: 509-962-7531
- Klickitat County
- Superior Court: 205 S Columbus Ave Goldendale, WA 98620
- Clerk’s Office: 509-773-5744
- Lewis County
- Superior Court: 345 W Main St Fl. 4 Chehalis, WA 98532
- Clerk’s Office: 360-740-2704
- Lincoln County
- Superior Court: 450 Logan St Davenport, WA 99122
- Clerk’s Office: 509-725-1401
- Mason County
- Superior Court: 419 N 4th St, Fl. 2 Shelton, WA 98584
- Clerk’s Office: 360-427-9670 ext. 346
- Okanogan County
- Superior Court: 149 3rd N Okanogan, WA 98840
- Clerk’s Office: 509-422-7275
- Pacific County
- Superior Court: 300 Memorial Dr. South Bend, WA 98586
- Clerk’s Office: 360-875-9320
- Pend Oreille County
- Superior Court: 229 S Garden Ave Newport, WA 99156
- Clerk’s Office: 509-684-7520
- Pierce County
- Superior Court: 930 Tacoma Ave S Tacoma, WA 98402
- Clerk’s Office: 253-798-7455
- San Juan County
- Superior Court: 350 Court St. #7 Friday Harbor, WA 98250
- Clerk’s Office: 360-378-2163
- Skagit County
- Superior Court: 205 W Kincaid St Mount Vernon, WA 98273
- Clerk’s Office: 360-416-1800
- Skamania County
- Superior Court: 240 Vancouver Ave Stevenson, WA 98648
- Clerk’s Office: 509-427-3770
- Snohomish County
- Superior Court: 3000 Rockefeller Ave, MS 502 Everett, WA 98201
- Clerk’s Office: 425-388-3466
- Spokane County
- Superior Court: 1116 W Broadway Ave Spokane, WA 99260
- Clerk’s Office: 509-477-2211
- Stevens County
- Superior Court: 215 S Oak St, Rm. 209 Colville, WA 99114
- Clerk’s Office: 509-684-7575
- Thurston County
- Superior Court: 2000 Lakeridge Dr SW, Bldg. 2 Olympia, WA 98502
- Clerk’s Office: 360-786-5430
- Wahkiakum County
- Superior Court: 64 Main St. Cathlamet, WA 98612
- Clerk’s Office: 360-795-3558
- Walla Walla County
- Superior Court: 315 W Main St Walla Walla, WA 99362
- Clerk’s Office: 509-524-2780
- Whatcom County
- Superior Court: 311 Grand Ave, Ste. 301 Bellingham, WA 98225
- Clerk’s Office: 360-778-5560
- Whitman County
- Superior Court: 400 N Main St Colfax, WA 99111
- Clerk’s Office: 509-397-6240
- Yakima County
- Superior Court: 128 N 2nd St Rm. 314 Yakima, WA 98901
- Clerk’s Office: 509-574-1430
How do I file?
Arrive at ex parte court at the appropriate time. Typically you’ll sign in with the Clerk before speaking to the judge. Each courtroom is different, some have a clipboard signup other court rooms will have you speak to the Clerk who works with the judge.
Once you are called you will tell the judge that you would like to file for guardianship. You’ll present your petition and Order Appointing a Guardian ad Litem. This is also the time that you present a fee waiver form if applicable. If you’ve filled out the forms correctly the Court should approve your request and schedule a hearing. The hearing typically occurs within sixty days. If you’ve made it this far, congrats you’ve successfully started the process.
The Court Date
What do I do if the court schedules a hearing?
First you’ll need to fill out the Notice of Guardianship Petition (#3) and make four copies of the Petition (#1), the Order Appointing Guardian ad Litem (#2), and the Notice of Guardianship Petition (#3). One copy is for you to keep, one will be sent to the person who needs a guardian, one will be sent to the Guardian ad Litem, and the last will be given to the ex parte Court.
Take the originals to the Clerk’s Office in order to file. As you’ve done before call the Clerk if you have any questions as to where they are located and the best times to come by. Once you file you’ll be assigned a case number, which should be added to all your forms.
After filing with the Clerk you’ll need to personally serve a set of copies to both the Guardian ad Litem and the person who needs a guardian. Someone other than you who is at least 18 years old can serve the papers. This means they’ll personally hand the papers to the individual and afterwards fill out a Declaration of Service form. You’ll need a different form for each person served. File the originals with the Clerk and make a copy for yourself.
It’s generally easiest to call the Guardian ad Litem before serving to ask for an address and time to deliver the court papers. Also, if the individual who needs a guardian has a spouse, other adults living in their home, adult children, parents if the person is a minor, or other guardians, those people must be served too.
After serving the Guardian ad Litem and person who needs a guardian you should have two copies left of the original three forms. Keep one for yourself and deliver the other copies to the ex parte courtroom. They must be received at least 14 days prior to the hearing.
Lastly, depending on which county you are in, you will need to complete mandatory guardianship training. In King County you will complete the training prior to filing the petition. In Snohomish County you must complete the training prior to the hearing. After finishing the training, make two copies of the certificate and file the original with the Clerk’s Office. The training program can be accessed here.
Note: When filing with the Clerk always make sure that you’ve also sent working copies to the Court. If you have questions consult the Clerk. You’ll need to be sure that the Court has a copy of these documents at least 14 days prior to the hearing:
- Petition for Guardianship
- Order Appointing Guardian ad Litem and Notice of Hearing
- Notice of Guardianship Petition
- Declarations of Service
- Certificate of Completion of Guardian Training
- Declaration of Proposed Guardian
- Plus any other documents filed with the Clerk
What to expect at the hearing?
First off, some courts require that you confirm your hearing in advance. If that is the case in your county make sure you call ahead at the appropriate time. Typically the cut off to confirm is two court days before the hearing.
When you attend the hearing bring the original Order Appointing Guardian of Person and/or Estate (#6) and copies of all other forms that have been filed. You will speak to the Commissioner and answer questions about why you believe guardianship is best and you may be asked questions about your ability to handle the role. Be honest with your answers.
If the Commissioner approves your request he will sign the order. Afterwards, you should make a copy and file the original with the Clerk. You’ll also file your Oath of Guardian (#7) and a bond if necessary. You’ll then receive certified copy of the Letters of Guardianship. These can be used as proof during doctor’s visits or with financial institutions that you are the approved guardian.
Final steps to finalize the process
Within 90 days of the hearing you’ll need to complete three forms and file them with the Clerk. Those forms include the Personal Care Plan (#10) only if you are the Guardian of the Person, the Guardianship Inventory (#11) only if you are the Guardian of the Estate, and the Designation of Standby Guardian (#9). If you’re unsure whether you are the guardian of the estate or the person, check the order.
Hopefully this summary gives you the confidence to file for guardianship of your loved one. If you have any questions about filing for guardianship or divorce with a special needs child, please call 206.409.4086 or send us a message.