I am currently serving as a court-appointed guardian ad litem in Harris County. In that capacity, I am an officer of the court that advises the court on the fairness of a settlement involving a minor. The guardian ad litem must remain objective and look after the long-term interests of the minor. The guardian ad litem will interview the lawyers and the minor and his or her family. The guardian ad litem may negotiate with the defendant on the settlement and with lien holders (for example, a hospital who has outstanding medical bills) to maximize the amount of money that is given to the minor.
The money does not usually go to the parents, even though the parents may intend to spend the entire amount of the settlement on the minor. The policy of the state of Texas is that parents and guardians are financially responsible for their children. Thus, the settlement will be placed in the registry of the court. The minor can then obtain the money from the registry when the minor reaches age 18. If the amount of the settlement is high enough (usually $10,000), then the ad litem will explore purchasing an annuity with the settlement funds. The annuity will usually outperform the interest earned in the registry of the court, but payments will be delayed over time – sometimes until the minor turns 25 years old.
After the settlement is worked out, the guardian ad litem set a hearing before the court. At this time, the ad litem reports the findings to the judge. The minor’s parent or representative gets sworn in as a witness, and the parties and the ad litem question the parent to establish that:
- The parent understands the terms of the settlement;
- That the parent understands that the minor is giving up a chance to try the case before a jury;
- At trial, the minor could recover more than the settlement, less than the settlement, or nothing at all;
- That the settlement is in the best interest of the child.
After the hearing, the court signs a final judgment. If the money was used to purchase an annuity, it is very important that the parent of the minor continue to update the annuity company on changes of address. If the money is in the registry of the court, it is important to keep the cause number of the lawsuit so that the minor can claim the money in the registry at age 18.
If you are involved in a case with a guardian ad litem, feel free to ask him or her questions.