Obtaining Legal Guardianship of a Senior Citizen

Jun 19, 2017

Obtaining Legal Guardianship of a Senior Citizen

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It can be an unthinkable outcome for many families, however, there may come a time when you or a senior loved one becomes unable to participate in meaningful decision-making — particularly regarding health care, finances, and other aspects of their lives. Obtaining legal guardianship of a senior citizen may be someone’s remaining option when a power of attorney or advanced directive have not been devised ahead of time. Here we’ll take a look at what obtaining legal guardianship means and some things to consider if this becomes a necessity. 

To start, becoming someone’s legal guardian means that a court has declared someone to be physically and/or mentally incompetent to the point where their responsibility for managing their medical decisions, living arrangements, and finances must be transferred to a trusted friend, family member, or spouse. These are referred to as guardianship or conservatorship cases and can be quite long even when all parties involved are in agreement with the proper course to take.

What does it mean to be a Court-Appointed Guardian?

Obtaining legal guardianship of a senior citizen or loved one means you have the legal obligation to act in accordance with their best interests as an individual. While they have total control in deciding who they want to be appointed to this role, it still does shift many of their legal rights away to place the decision making in the hands of a guardian. This might seem like a step backward, however, this is done to ensure that the correct decisions both medically and financially are carried out under a guardian’s supervision and counsel.

What are the Responsibilities of a Legal Guardian?

Once appointed as someone’s legal guardian, the person you are responsible for is called a “ward” in legal terms. Without the pre-written guidance of an advance directive or power of attorney, legal guardians are tasked with actively making decisions and hold responsibilities such as: 

  • Monitoring the ward’s residence
  • Consenting to medical treatments or procedures
  • Determining how finances are to be handled, the types of finances made available, and investment plans
  • Authorizing the release of confidential information
  • Maintaining records of expenditures
  • Making decisions regarding end-of-life options
  • Serving as a representative payee
  • Working to maximize a ward’s independence with limited restrictions
  • Reporting annually to the court that appointed your guardianship
  • Other Considerations When Becoming a Legal Guardian 

Although this is not a comprehensive list of everything you may be required to coordinate after obtaining legal guardianship of a senior citizen, know that this is not a lightly held agreement by any means. Even after your loved one has moved to the care of a nursing home or another type of senior living community you’ll still be responsible for managing and protecting their finances and arranging the various medical services required.

It may go without saying, but obtaining legal guardianship of a senior citizen doesn’t mean you control their lives entirely. Sure, you’ll be making major decisions regarding some of the most important aspects of your loved one’s finances, medical care, and general wellbeing, however, it’s important to learn how to balance your role while promoting their independence. Courts can provide broad or very limited authority, so each case is going to be different based on a family’s individual circumstance. It’s also not uncommon for responsibilities to be doled out to several parties rather than a single guardian.

In any case, obtaining legal guardianship of a senior citizen doesn’t have to be a difficult process, although it does require a great deal of cooperation and communication between each person involved. The goal is to help each person maintain as much independence and good health as possible, all while insuring they have the support they need both financially and legally.

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