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In reading this thread: In the USA, do parents have the right to control their children's possessions?

It made me wonder... What responsibility do parents have to keep and maintain the property of their children? An example here would be when a young child — infant, toddler, pre-adolescent — receives gifts for birthdays, Christmas, etc. They will outgrow these in short-order, stop playing with them, etc.

In the referenced thread, the consensus seems to be that those gifts belong solely to the child and the parent has no claim over them. So, as a parent, are we obligated to hold them in storage until a child reaches an age where they can grant consent for us to dispose of them? At what age could a child grant such consent? And, if we dispose of them sooner, are we ultimately committing a crime (i.e. theft)?

As the child's legal guardian, do we not have ultimate say over their legal affairs until they turn 18, and if so, would we not have legal authority over the management (including disposal, sale, transfer, etc.) of their assets? Isn't such control a basic tenant of guardianship?

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The parent is a fiduciary

This has been explicitly acknowledged in many common law jurisdictions and is likely true in all of them.

A fiduciary is a person in a position of legal or ethical trust with respect to another person.

A fiduciary duty is the highest standard of care in equity or law. A fiduciary is expected to be extremely loyal to the person to whom he owes the duty (the "principal") such that there must be no conflict of duty between fiduciary and principal, and the fiduciary must not profit from their position as a fiduciary.[ (unless the principal consents). The nature of fiduciary obligations differs among jurisdictions. In Australia, only proscriptive or negative fiduciary obligations are recognised,[ whereas in Canada, fiduciaries can come under both proscriptive (negative) and prescriptive (positive) fiduciary obligations.

Other recognised fiduciary relationships are: director to company,trustee to beneficiaries, lawyer to client, teacher to student, and guardian to ward.

A fiduciary has the legal right (and obligation) to deal with the assets of the principal but that dealing must be in the principal’s interest (as a reasonable fiduciary would see it - company directors are required to use business judgement; not to be right) without consideration of whether it is good for the fiduciary.

A parent can clearly dispose of worthless (or near worthless) assets of the child with or without the consent and knowledge (subject to age and reasonableness) of the child so long as they make that decision in the best interests of the child.

Control in that manner is basic tenant of guardianship because a guardian is a fiduciary.

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  • Thank you. In the context of taking away an older childs X-Box, cell phone ,etc. that he may or may not have purchased himself, does the parent still have the ability as a fiduciary to confiscate or sell those items to modify the childs behavior or as punishment, if it is believed that doing so would be in the best interest of the child. Right or wrong, if the parent truly believes it is best.
    – mikem
    May 7 at 7:24
  • @mikem the parents belief is irrelevant. What matters is if a reasonable parent would believe it is in the child’s best interest. Reasonableness is a range - if a parent stays within it they’re fine.
    – Dale M
    May 7 at 11:22
  • Thanks, Dale. Your answers were perfect!
    – mikem
    May 7 at 17:16

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