When people hear the term guardian, they often think of guardianship over a minor. As parents, we are the natural guardians of our own children. However, once that child turns eighteen (18), they no longer have a legal guardian.
So, what happens when an adult needs a guardian?
First, why would an adult need a guardian? Unfortunately, this need arises more often than most people realize. The most common examples are a disabled child who can’t care for themselves but has turned 18, an adult is in an accident that causes them to temporarily or permanently be unable to care for themselves or make appropriate decisions, or an older adult is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease and can no longer handle their affairs. All of these situations require the appointment of a Court Appointed Guardian.
A Guardianship is defined as court authority to make decisions for another person (often called a “ward”). A Guardian makes decisions such as where the person will live and makes arrangements for his/her care, and handles health care decisions including end-of-life issues.
To establish a Guardianship, someone (usually a family member or interested party) petitions the Probate Court and asks to be appointed. This requires a Summons and Petition filed by the interested party through his or her legal counsel. The Court schedules a hearing to determine whether the person is legally incapacitated and to what extent the Guardian needs to make decisions on their behalf. Medical evidence of incapacity is required and the court will provide a guardian ad litem to represent the interest of the alleged incapacitated party. If the judge decides that the person is legally incapacitated and in need of protection, the Court will appoint a Guardian (personal decision making). They may also appoint a Conservator (financial decision maker) at the same time. The Court then supervises the Guardian who must make yearly reports to the Probate Court regarding the condition of the incapacitated person.
This process can often be avoided if the person has a properly drafted and executed Health Care Power of Attorney in place. If you’re reading this blog, it’s a good time to make sure YOU have that document in place should you become the adult in need of help. Unfortunately, less than 1/3 of the population prepares this document which often makes court involvement necessary. At times, it’s also necessary to use this process to remove someone who is serving as a Power of Attorney but who isn’t acting in the best interest of someone who is incapacitated.
Please search our site for other blog posts related to Guardians, Conservators and Fiduciaries for more details on Court Appointed Guardians and call or text us at 843-871-9500 if you need a consult.