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Difference Between Legal Guardianship and Adoption

There are many difficult questions to consider when accepting responsibility for the welfare of a child. Whether it is legal guardianship or adoption, there is some confusion surrounding the terms and the differences between them. Everyone is asking, “What is the difference between adoption and legal guardianship?” 

Both legal guardianship and adoption have legal restrictions and obligations. Each is subject to its own unique set of in-depth processes and procedures. It iseasy for current parents and prospective parents to confuse the processes of legal guardianship and adoption. To help you further understand the difference, we’ve outlined what you need to know.

Legal Guardianship:

Guardianship merely establishes a legal relationship between a child and an adult who is not the biological parent. Legal Guardianship is used to provide for the financial, healthcare, and personal care needs of achild that the legal parent cannot provide. The biological parent may regain placement of the childbecause guardianship is a temporary action, and parental rights are not terminated. Legal guardianships can give guardians custody of a child until they’re 18 years old. Guardianship also means the legal guardian has the legal authority to consent on behalf of a child.


If a Legal Guardian wishes to leave an inheritance to the child, they must make special provisions in their will.

Death of Legal Guardian:

A subsidy may be offered to the successors the guardian listed in the subsidy agreement when a guardianship subsidy ends due to the guardian’s death or incapacitation.


Adoption is the process by which a non-biological parent becomes legally recognized as the parent of a child. Adoption terminates the previous legal parent-child relationship and creates a new legal parent-child relationship between the adoptee and adoptive parent. Sometimes adopted children maintain contact with their birth family. This is called “open adoption.” Adoption is a permanent action that will legally make you the parent of the child in question. It is a lifelong commitment. The adoptive parent becomes not just a guardian, but the child’s actual parent in the eyes of the law. This means holding full responsibility for the child’s welfare andongoing obligations of financial support and the establishment of inheritance rights between the adoptive parent and the child.


An adopted child has the same rights as birth children when the adoptive parent does not have a will. 

Death of Adoptive parent:

The adoption subsidy ends with the death or termination of the rights of the adoptive parents. The child may remain eligible for adoption.

The Bottom Line:

Legal guardianship and adoption are legal arrangements for the care of children. Each is established by the court when a child’s parents cannot care for them. Whether you pursue guardianship or adoption, each comes with great responsibility

For more information or if you would like to speak with an attorney regarding Legal Guardianship and Adoption, contact our office to schedule your consultation today. Tessmer Law Firm is here for you and will help you make the best decision for you and your family.