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Understanding Nevada Guardianship Types

There is confusion in the media (“ward of the state” gets tossed around a lot) and in public perception about Nevada guardianship matters. This guide explains the difference between private professional, public, temporary, and general guardians and everything in between.  (See the piece on Avvo.com as well)

What is Guardianship?

Simply put, guardianship is where an individual who lacks the capacity to make decisions medically or financially on their own behalf. For those under 18, they fall under minor guardianship rules, over 18 is where adult guardianship applies. A guardian of the person means that the person who is incapacitated (the ward) has someone legally in place to make their medical decisions and the like. A guardian of the estate is legally in place to handle financials and related issues. Most minor guardianships cover just the person where there are no funds to manage and most adult guardianships cover both the person and estate.

Public Guardian

A public guardian is established by NRS Chapter 253. A county appoints an individual and that person (as well as their deputies as authorized by the statute) can step in and serve as guardian for incapacitated individuals in the county where they’ve been appointed and serve to protect the best interests of the ward. The public guardian, like any other guardian appointed under NRS 159, can hire an attorney to represent them in court proceedings. The fees of that attorney are paid out of the assets of the ward after court review and approval. If there are no funds to pay the attorney, the attorney essentially has worked on the case pro bono. The public guardian bills their time and their case managers’ time to be reimbursed by the estate of the ward and any money received (if approved and available) goes to helping the office serve the community. Sometimes people want the public guardian to serve because it can be very cost effective for the ward but if family or friends are willing, able, and appropriate to serve, they need to file for guardianship on their own. In some cases where family is out of state, the public guardian can serve to protect a ward, especially from exploitation (see the section on Temporary Guardianship below) and then facilitate transfer of guardianship to another jurisdiction so a ward can be close to their loved ones. The public guardian in a county provides a service to the safety of those in the community by being able to serve wards whose estates have been depleted by exploitation or who are at risk for abuse and neglect at the hands of those who should care for them. Public guardians and their deputies have high standards of conduct mandated by statute in the state and have to undergo background checks along with other qualification requirements.

(Individual, Non-Professional) Guardian

This could be titled simply “Guardian” but to distinguish this from a private professional guardians it is important to know that a regular, run of the mill guardian is someone who is not guardian for numerous wards who are not related to them. If you’re seeking to become guardian of your elderly parents with dementia, for example, there’s no special designation. Still, as a layperson, the same responsibilities under guardianship law to the ward apply. This type of guardian is allowed to hire an attorney to assist them or represent themselves. The ward is also, in all these categories, entitled to representation if they desire but that can be limited to what is freely available if they do not have funds to have an attorney retained. At any rate, this is probably the type of guardian you are seeking to become when you are looking to assist a family member or friend by asking for authority to manage their medicals and/or finances. The court is going to try to make it so that a willing, able, and qualified guardian in this category can serve because they are most likely who a ward would want helping them.

Special Guardian

This is a special category for a guardianship where the powers are very limited to a specific task. This often comes up when the only reason guardianship is needed is so that someone else can sign on behalf of a ward to, say, authorize an experimental medical procedure but the doctor doesn’t feel comfortable taking the ward’s informed consent directly for lack of capacity. Other situations where this comes up is with care facilities that want to get paid so they bring a special private professional (see below) guardian in just long enough to have Medicaid applied for successfully and then the private professional guardian withdraws. This example is controversial but it does come up.

Private Professional Guardian

Private Professional Guardians are those that are in the guardianship business. The Public Guardian (mentioned above) takes cases where assistance is needed even if there’s no money in the ward’s estate to help cover costs or an attorney. Where funds exist to pay a private professional and their attorney for their time and effort and friends or family are either not qualified or willing, or the family would like to essentially hire on the private professional to serve in lieu of themselves (so long as they would have been able and willing themselves), you’ll see private professional guardians. They also are helpful to families when they’d like to apply for guardianship in the state of Nevada but aren’t residents here (see below for co-guardianship). As mentioned above in the “Special Guardian” section, sometimes Private Professional Guardians are brought in by other parties who need them to take actions like applying for Medicaid. Public Guardians can also do this on behalf of a given ward but it depends on factors like who the facility contacts to get the ball rolling.


This simply is the term used for more than one guardian with equal authority as guardian to act together to help a ward. Sometimes this means a husband and wife serving together to be guardians of an adult child or other family member or it could be an out of state individual teaming up with an in-state one to qualify to serve as guardian. When one co-guardian passes away, if they were the one that cemented the in-state requirement, the remaining guardian will need to get a new co-guardian to serve in that role. Co-Guardians should make sure that they are on the same page about responsibilities to the ward because they could be held accountable for the actions of their partner(s).

Temporary Guardian (court based)

A temporary guardian can be appointed with limited specific powers to remedy something while a general guardianship petition is making its way through the hoops set by statute. In other words, if someone is in danger and needs help right now, the court can appoint someone to step in and help, but the expectation is that there is a time limit on the guardianship (sometimes with a few extensions but not exceeding 5 months unless special circumstances permit) and that a “general” (sometimes called “permanent,” which is a bit of a misnomer) guardianship is going to follow.

Temporary Guardian (informal, for a minor)

There is a special ability for parents of a minor (under 18) to give guardianship power to someone with a written document that expires by its terms or at six months from the date of the document. Important: this does not confer the same powers as guardianship established under NRS 159. It can be helpful in giving authority to someone while they petition for guardianship but often to apply for aid for the child, the guardian will need to formalize the relationship through court actions. Look at NRS 159.205 for details as to what is required for the writing, signature, and terms of a temporary informal guardianship for a minor.

General (“Permanent”) Guardian

The courts prefer the term general guardian to differentiate from a temporary guardian but you’ll see the term permanent sometimes in documents. A guardianship isn’t ever permanent because it is always under scrutiny but a general guardianship doesn’t carry an expiration or limitation of powers like a temporary guardianship unless it is somehow a special general guardianship and in that case there may be a limitation of powers. The courts do want to be the least restrictive to the ward as necessary to act in their best interests but for a guardian, broader authority can be very helpful in advocating for the ward.

Additional Resources

The Clark County Public Guardian’s Office 702-455-4332

The Washoe County Public Guardian’s Office 775-674-8800

Nevada Aging and Disability Services 888-729-0571

Nevada Revised Statutes Chapter 159

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Homa Sayyar Woodrum has been licensed to practice law in the State of Nevada since October 2007. She graduated from the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada Las Vegas in May 2007 with her Juris Doctorate. Prior to law school she earned her BSBA in International Business at UNLV and has lived in Nevada since mid-2000 after relocating from Wasilla, Alaska. She practices in the areas of Business, Elder, Guardianship, Probate, and Estate Planning Law and started her practice in January 2014. She is an AV Rated Preeminent Attorney by Martindale and Avvo "Superb" Rated (9.8/10). In June 2015, Woodrum Law LLC welcomed Adam L. Woodrum, Esq. to the practice. He brought with him a number of years of experience in Criminal Law.

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