As our population continues to age, more and more people are finding themselves in the position of needing to obtain a guardianship for an elderly family member. A guardianship is a legal relationship between a person who is unable to care for themselves (the ward) and a person or organization (the guardian) that is willing and able to take on that responsibility.
There are many reasons why an elderly person may need a guardian. They may be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease and no longer able to make decisions for themselves. They may be mentally incapacitated and unable to care for their own needs. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself in the position of needing to obtain a guardianship, it is important to understand the process and what it entails.
The Process of Setting Up a Guardianship
1. A family member or friend files a petition with the court asking to be appointed as guardian.
2. The court reviews the petition and sets a hearing date. The ward must be notified of the hearing date so they can attend if they wish.
3. At the hearing, the petitioner must prove that the appointment of a guardian is necessary and in the best interests of the ward. The court may also appoint an attorney to represent the interests of the ward during this process.
4. After reviewing all evidence presented at the hearing, the court will make its decision and issue an order appointing or denying the request for guardianship.
5. If guardianship is granted, the court will issue an order detailing what powers and responsibilities the guardian has regarding the care and control of the ward and their property. The guardian must then follow all rules and regulations set forth in that order.
6. The guardian has ongoing duties to maintain accurate records of all receipts and expenditures made on behalf of the ward, as well as to file periodic reports with the court detailing their actions taken on behalf of the ward.
At the hearing, the judge will appoint a lawyer for the ward (if the ward does not already have one) and will appoint an investigator from Adult Protective Services (APS) to look into the situation. The investigator will meet with the ward, as well as with any other family members or friends who might be involved in their care. After completing their investigation, the investigator will make a recommendation to the judge about whether or not they think a guardianship is necessary.
If the judge decides that a guardianship is necessary, they will appoint the guardian and set out specific guidelines about what that guardian is responsible for. In most cases, the guardian is responsible for making all medical decisions for the ward, as well as decisions about where they will live and what type of care they will receive. The guardian is also responsible for making sure that any bills are paid and that the ward's property is taken care of.
A guardian must act in a fiduciary capacity. This means that they are legally obligated to manage the finances and property of the person in that person’s best interest. This means making decisions about their finances and property that will benefit individual long term. If you intend to act as a guardian for a loved one here are some tips to help you navigate your fiduciary responsibilities as a guardian:
1. Communicate with your ward: It is important to keep lines of communication open with the person you are appointed to guardianship. They should be aware of all decisions being made on their behalf and why those decisions are being made.
2. Keep records: Keep detailed records of all decisions and financial transactions made on behalf of your ward. This will help you stay organized and be able to show why certain decisions were made if there is ever any question about it.
3. Act in their best interest: This is perhaps the most important tip of all. Always act in what you believe to be the best interest of your ward, even if it is not what they want or what is easy for you. Long-term decisions are often difficult to make, but they are necessary in order to protect your ward's interests.
A guardianship is a complicated legal process, but it can be necessary in order to ensure that an elderly person receives the care they need. If you find yourself in this situation, it is important to understand what is involved in obtaining a guardianship so that you can be prepared for what lies ahead. Although a guardianship can be a big responsibility, it can also be very rewarding. If you have been appointed as a guardian, make sure you understand your powers and duties so that you can fulfill your role to the best of your ability.
Tyice Strahl (CSA, CHW)