GUARDIANSHIPS FOR INCAPACITATED ADULTS

Adults sometimes need help managing their daily affairs due to illness, an injury, age, or disability. One option in this situation is an adult guardianship. In an adult guardianship, a court appoints a guardian – often a spouse or relative – to help an adult. The adult is known as a ward. Guardianships affect wards’ legal rights, so it is important to learn which rights are affected and how. Many guardianships become permanent, while some may be dissolved if the ward’s life circumstances change.

In many states, the process for appointing a guardian is similar: an application is filed with the court, and a judge holds a hearing. The ward must be evaluated by a doctor to establish the ward’s incapacity, and the judge considers the doctor’s report and other information. If appropriate, the judge then appoints a guardian for the adult ward. Guardians most often are relatives, guardianship programs, or the state. The judge also decides how much power the guardian will have to make decisions for the ward and what kinds of decisions the ward can make for himself.

Guardians pay wards’ bills, manage assets such as bank accounts, and meet wards’ living and medical needs using the ward’s financial resources. However, they cannot prevent wards from making bad decisions and are not responsible for bad decisions or illegal activities by the ward. In some states, guardians cannot put wards in mental health facilities. Further, guardians are not required to use their own money to support wards and do not supervise wards all the time.

Because guardianship results in the ward having limited decision-making power about major life issues, an attorney is needed and often required to navigate the process. Guardians decide many things for their wards, including where they live, which medical procedures they will receive, and who has access to them. They must also account or report to the court at least yearly and renew their letter of guardianship. Attorneys can help coordinate all these issues. If a guardianship is to be terminated or modified, the attorney can represent the guardian at the court hearing.

Establishing a guardian is a big and important step. Sometimes, there are alternative options to guardianship that people can use before making that step. Examples include powers of attorney, supported decision-making agreements (in some states), or assisted living facilities. No matter which option a family chooses, it is essential to understand all the options and their consequences for the ill, disabled, or older person who needs help.

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Attorney Vivian Ross-Bennett and her staff work with Texas and South Carolina families to set up adult guardianships for their loved ones. They also explore other options to guardianship with clients and represent guardians before the court. If it is time to make a change for an adult in your life who needs some help, or if you need help yourself, call Vivian Ross-Bennett at (512) 330-4099 or email her to set up an appointment.

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