Guardianship is a topic that often comes up when loved ones are planning a senior’s future care. Many times, it is because the older adult is experiencing a decline in physical or cognitive health.
Protecting a senior loved one’s assets and making decisions about their future can be tough, especially when an older adult hasn’t done any formal planning. A guardianship often becomes necessary.
If your family finds itself in this situation, you might be wondering what a guardianship is, how it is established, and what it allows loved ones to do on a senior’s behalf.
Answering Commonly Asked Questions about Guardianships
Q: What is a guardian?
A: While many people are familiar with the term, few understand exactly what it means. A guardian is a court-appointed person, institution, or agency that manages an individual’s affairs when they are unable to make decisions on their own.
The court can grant a guardian the power to oversee the individual’s personal or financial concerns, or both.
Q: Can anyone be appointed as a guardian for an older adult?
A: This depends on where an older adult lives. As a protective measure, some states prefer to appoint family members as guardians, but it might not be a legal requirement. If the court feels the need to protect an individual, even from family members, they may appoint a professional guardian. The courts often have a list of professional guardians they routinely work with.
In most states, adults age 18 and over who have not been convicted of a felony can typically be named as guardians. Public and private institutions and agencies can also be appointed as a guardian so long as they are not benefiting financially by services they are providing to the individual.
Q: Does the process of applying for a guardianship take a long time?
A: The answer depends on the circumstances surrounding the individual case and the state the senior lives in. If the person is amid a crisis, such as being the victim of elder abuse or living alone with dementia, the court can quickly issue a temporary guardianship.
Once the adult’s welfare is stabilized, the court will examine the situation and name a permanent guardian.
When family dynamics are complicated or there are significant financial assets involved, the process might take much longer.
Q: How does the court determine if a guardianship is necessary?
A: The courts take the issue of guardianship very seriously. The court will look closely at the individual’s cognitive well-being, ability to make decisions independently and provide for their personal needs, medical status, safety issues, finances, family support, and more.