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Adult Guardianship – what is it and when is one needed? 

– Authored by: Anisha D. Rutkowski

When you hear the term “guardian,” you may simply think of a circumstance where an adult is responsible for caring for a child. However, there are numerous situations where a guardian may be needed to handle the care of, and important decisions for, an adult. Essentially, when it is determined that an adult cannot make proper, responsible decisions, they may need a guardian.

Who makes this determination? A court must first determine that an adult is “incapacitated,” meaning, in general, that the adult’s mental or physical capacity is limited in a manner that prevents this adult from making informed decisions. An adult may be considered legally “incapacitated” for many different reasons. Some scenarios may include a physical disability, mental disability, mental illness, or ongoing drug use.

Who can tell the court that an adult needs a guardian? Anyone interested in the well-being of a particular adult may petition the court for a guardianship. If you believe that someone you know is in need of a guardian, you must seek guardianship appointment in the probate court of the county where that adult resides. Typically, the court will hold a hearing to determine whether a guardianship is in fact needed.

What are the guardian’s duties? A guardian’s duties usually include making decisions about the person’s well-being, such as medical decisions and decisions related to living arrangements. Sometimes, a guardian may also serve as a “conservator,” an individual who must also be appointed by the court and who typically handles decisions related to an incapacitated adult’s finances.

What is a “court-appointed guardian?” A court may use a “court-appointed guardian,” as opposed to an incapacitated adult’s loved one, to serve as guardian for that incapacitated adult. Court-appointed guardians may be used in various situations, but primarily arise in cases with significant conflict between family members regarding an incapacitated adult’s care.

Regardless of who serves as guardian, a guardianship is a significant legal matter, as it removes an adult’s right to make their own decisions and transfers that right to another person. Because of the serious implications of a guardianship, is important to seek counsel of a trusted attorney if you believe a loved one is in need of a guardian and/or conservator.

Contact us to learn more about guardianships and conservatorships for adults.

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