The First Critical Step in the Guardianship Maze
What is Guardianship?
“Guardianship” generally refers to the process whereby one person (i.e., the proposed Guardian) petitions the probate court to be appointed Guardian of another person (i.e., the alleged disabled person or Ward). If full guardianship is granted, the Guardian will have decision making authority for the Ward’s day-to-day care and finances.
When is Guardianship appropriate?
Guardianship is appropriate when the alleged disabled person is not able to manage his or her affairs and, therefore, is in need of protection. For example, a Guardian is often appointed to protect someone who is experiencing Alzheimer’s or severe dementia, mental illness, developmental disabilities, or drug and/or alcohol addiction. Full Guardianship is a drastic measure, and should only be sought when alternatives do not work or are not available.
What is the first step towards Guardianship?
You should first consult with an attorney who has significant experience in helping families with Guardianship proceedings. Your attorney will direct you to have a doctor complete an evaluation form that confirms that the disabled person needs a Guardian. Then, your attorney will prepare a Petition for Guardianship of a Disabled Person. The petition will be filed in the appropriate court. At the time the petition is filed, the court clerk will assign the case to a particular judge. Your attorney will then contact the assigned judge’s clerk to schedule a hearing on the petition. If the petition is not contested, Letters of Guardianship will be issued to the proposed Guardian. If the petition is contested (usually by the alleged disabled person), the court will schedule the case for a contested guardianship hearing. The contested hearing is like a mini trial, during which evidence is presented, witnesses provide testimony, witnesses are cross-examined, etc. Given the nature of a contested Guardianship hearing, it is imperative that you work with an attorney who has litigated these types of cases.
Guardianship proceedings should only be approached with the assistance of a probate attorney who has experience in this area of the law.