Guardians Ad Litem (GAL)

This page is for information only. County Courts appoint GALs and review their services. Thus, DHS and the Client Rights Office do not provide advice to GALs unless their questions are related to the rights of their clients who are receiving services for mental illness, developmental disabilities or substance abuse.

The WI Guardianship Support Center (GSC) (exit DHS) provides information and assistance on issues related to guardianship, protective placement, advance directives, and more. That site may assist you with any other GAL questions.

Guardians Ad Litem (GAL)

Duties and Responsibilities in Guardianship Matters

Definition: A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is an attorney who is appointed by a court to represent the interests of a party who may not be able to advocate for themselves (such as a minor or a possibly incompetent person) during the court process.

Appointment: A court appoints a GAL in proceedings regarding guardianship or protective placement or services. (ss. 54.40(1) and ss. 55.10(4)(b), Wis. Stats.)

Qualifications: Licensed attorney, who is not a party, relative of a party, or representative of a party to the proceedings. (ss. 54.40(2), Wis. Stats.)

Responsibilities: Advocate for the "best interests" of the client. The GAL shall consider, but not be bound by, the wishes of the ward or proposed ward. A GAL has none of the rights or duties of a guardian. (ss.54.40(3), Wis. Stats.)

General duties: (ss. 54.40(4), Wis. Stats.)

  • Interview the ward or proposed ward and explain the contents of the petition for guardianship, the procedures and their rights.
  • Interview the proposed guardian(s).
  • Make a recommendation to the court regarding fitness of the proposed guardian.
  • Advise client, orally and in writing, of rights under ss.54.42, Wis. Stats..
  • Review any Power of Attorney for Health Care (Ch. 155) or Durable Power of Attorney (Ch. 243) or financial or health care documents executed by the proposed ward. Interview any health care or financial agent appointed by the proposed ward. Report to the court on whether or not the ward's advance planning is adequate to preclude the need for guardianship.
  • Inform the court and petitioner's counsel if the proposed ward wants an attorney.
  • Notify the guardian of the guardian's rights in the process.
  • Request necessary additional medical, psychological or other evaluations.
  • Inform the court of any objections the ward has.
  • Attend all court proceedings.
  • Present evidence concerning the best interests of the proposed client.
  • Report to the court on any matter that the court requests.

Communication to the jury: (ss. 54.40(5), Wis. Stats.)

  • Tell the jury that GAL represents best interests of client.

Termination, extension of appointment: (ss. 54.40(6), Wis. Stats.)

  • Ends upon court's final order or termination of any appeal GAL participates in.
  • Court may extend or reappoint.
  • GAL or any party may request termination of extension or reappointment.

Compensation: (ss. 54.74, and ss.55.10(b), Wis. Stats.)

  • Court may order reasonable compensation from the ward's estate.
  • If the ward is indigent, the county of venue is liable for the GAL fees.
  • If the ward is in a Title XIX funded facility the GAL's fees may be paid from the ward's "cost of care" amount, not personal allowance, so federal funds may be reimbursed later.
  • GAL bills then are processed by the county's Income Maintenance Department.

Duties in annual reviews of protective placements: (ss. 55.18(2), Wis. Stats.)

  • Review the county's and the guardian's annual reports.
  • Meet with the individual and contact the guardian.
  • Explain to the guardian and ward both orally and in writing the procedure and rights of the ward.
  • Review the individual's condition, placement, and rights with the guardian.
  • Secure necessary additional evaluations.
  • Ascertain whether the ward wishes to exercise any of the ward's rights in the court process.
  • File a written report with the court within 30 days.
  • Certify to the county that the GAL has fulfilled their duties under the statute.
  • Most integrated setting: (ss. 46.279, Wis. Stats.) For placement reviews involving individuals in county based Intermediate Care Facilities for the Mentally Retarded (ICFs/MR), the GAL also needs to review whether they are in the "most integrated setting" consistent with their needs.

Best interests of the client: In accordance with ss.55.001, Wis. Stats., protective placements and services should, to the maximum degree of feasibility, allow the individual the same rights as other citizens. The least possible restrictions should be placed on the individual's personal liberty and exercise of constitutional rights. At the same time, the individual must be protected from abuse, financial exploitation, neglect and self-neglect.

This policy sets up a balancing of competing interests: risk-taking in order to allow the individual to experience growth vs. caution and over-protectiveness to ensure their safety. The GAL should always consider: What is the least restrictive environment for the individual consistent with meeting their essential requirements for health, safety and protection?

Last Revised: November 18, 2014