QUESTION: What is a Guardianship?
More specifically, what is a Guardianship over an adult person?
Short Answer: A Guardianship is the Court directed process of appointing a person to take over certain decision making authority for an individual in need of assistance.
Explanation: When a person reaches a point where they are unable to make informed decisions for themselves, (for example that person may no longer be able to handle their daily affairs such as forgetting to take medicines, inability to engage in daily activities such as cooking and bathing, struggling to care for themselves medically, and perhaps may be a danger to themselves or others), a Guardianship over that individual may be the appropriate action. The process of obtaining a Guardianship will require a Judge to review the situation, determine the appropriateness of the Guardianship, and order that a Guardian be appointed to act on behalf of an individual in need of oversight.
Note: Guardianship should not be confused with Conservatorship, which gives authority to act on one’s behalf regarding their assets, funds, and income.
Caution: Because a decision to grant Guardianship will remove certain rights of an individual, Judges do not take the decision lightly and will want to be thoroughly convinced that the Guardianship is the appropriate action to be taken. Anyone who considers such an action should first determine whether there is a viable alternative to a Guardianship that does not remove the rights of the individual such as implementing an already executed Medical Patient Designation form. If there appears to be no alternative, the person taking such action should be thoroughly educated in the process of Guardianship as well as the responsibilities of a Guardian as the Court will hold that person responsible for all decisions and actions taken. Oftentimes engaging an experienced elder law attorney will provide the proposed Guardian with expertise needed to ensure all proper actions are taken before and after appointment and that the Guardian properly complies with the laws and regulations.
Please note that the above question is intended for education and informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice. Every situation is vastly different and thus the need for one-on-one legal advice from an experienced attorney. Every reader of this article is encouraged to seek out an experienced attorney to advise on their specific circumstances.