Pennsylvania Supreme Court Holds that Divorced Mother Has Standing to Challenge Guardian Appointed after Child Inherited from Deceased Father

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Holds that Divorced Mother Has Standing to Challenge Guardian Appointed after Child Inherited from Deceased Father

A divorced father designated his child as a life insurance policy's sole beneficiary. When the father died, the administratrix, as the child's "next friend," filed a petition for the appointment of a limited guardian. The guardian's primary role was to place the child's assets into an appropriate trust.

The child's mother challenged the appointment, objecting to the trust's formation as too expensive and too risky. The lower court found that the mother did not have standing to contest the appointment because of her status as the child's mother. The lower court then directed that all of the child's inheritance be placed in the trust.

On appeal, the issue presented was:

whether a parent has legal standing to challenge the appointment of a guardian for her child's estate?

In In re Miller, 27 A.3d 987 (Pa. 2011) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers / unenhanced version available from lexisONE Free Case Law], the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed, holding that a parent does have standing. Citing Senseman's Appeal, 21 Pa. 331 (Pa. 1853) [enhanced version], Appeal of Corwin, 126 Pa. 326 (Pa. 1889) [enhanced version] and Pa. Sup. Orph. Ct. R. 12.5, the court agreed with the mother's argument that she had standing to challenge the appointment of the guardian for her minor child's estate. The court held that:

this right to be heard stems from the duty of a parent to maintain and protect his or her child's interests. The fact that a parent has no right to his or her child's estate does not diminish the parental duty to maintain and protect the entirety of the minor child's interests, personal and financial.

There is no question that Mother has a "substantial, direct and immediate interest" in the appointment of Mr. Dempsey as guardian for her minor child's estate. Mother's interest is substantial because it surpasses the generalized interest of all citizens in the appointment of appropriate guardians to represent the interests of minors. Mother's interest is direct because there is a causal connection between the appointment of the allegedly inappropriate guardian and the harm Mother alleges will inure to her child's estate. Mother's interest is immediate because that causal connection is not remote or speculative, but rather is asserted in the terms of the Trust. Indeed, to deny Mother standing in proceedings regarding the appointment of a guardian for her minor child, be it a guardian of the minor's person or estate, would be to erect obstacles to the fulfillment of her parental duty to protect her child's interests.

(citations omitted)

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