A guardianship is the legal process that is used to protect individuals who are unable to care for themselves, whether because of disability, incapacity or even infancy. For example, a person may suffer from certain psychological conditions that impact their decision making, or an individual may suffer a traumatic brain injury in a car accident and be unable to make decisions regarding their own care. In those cases, a court will appoint one person or entity to make decisions for another (the ward).
In cases of mental and physical disability or incapacity, severe and long-term limitations in a person’s ability to care for themselves, earn a living and/or care for their daily activities independently of others may be present. Medical treatment decisions are often necessary, and coordination of medical bills are required.
Courts are tasked with establishing guardianships in these instances, and they typically appoint guardians when a person does not have a durable power of attorney and/or medical directives already in place when they become incapacitated. Often times the person is without family members to help them through this difficult time. The guardian will often be able to make both financial and non-financial decisions for the person. Without a guardian in place, excessive liabilities may accrue against the incapacitated individual or their investments and personal property can lose their value over time if left unmanaged.
Guardianships are limited by the court system as much as possible in order to allow individuals reasonable control over their own lives while maintaining their dignity and self-reliance. The desires of the wards are given primary consideration. The role of the guardian is to act in the incapacitated individual’s best interest while respecting the that individual’s desires and taking every possible action to instill independence back into their lives.