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Understanding how a guardianship is used for adults

Most residents of Washington understand that a guardianship is used to protect the interests of a minor child whose parents are deceased or otherwise unable or unwilling to manage the child's affairs. In Washington, the term "guardianship" refers to both minors and adults who are placed under the care of another person. (A number of other states use the term "conservatorship" to distinguish between the two proceedings.) Establishing a guardianship can be an important estate planning or management tool for those with family members and close friends who are unable to manage their own affairs.

A guardian for an adult is appointed by an order of the superior court in the district where the adult lives. In order to justify appointment of a guardian, a person must be found to be "...incompetent by reason of mental illness, developmental disability, senility, habitual drunkenness, excessive use of drugs, or other mental incapacity, of either managing his or her property or caring for himself or herself, or both." The statute stresses that appointment of a guardian for an individual is a legal decision, not a medical one. As a practical matter, a guardian for an adult is appointed when an individual has demonstrated problems with managing personal care or financial matters.

Anyone with an interest may petition the court for the appointment of a guardian. Usually, guardianship petitions are filed by the children or spouse of an elderly person. Guardians may also be appointed for people who are found to be disabled because of an illness or injury. Once a petition has been filed, the court sets a hearing date and provides notice to all interested parties. Guardianship petitions are occasionally opposed by another child or any other person who either (a) does not agree with the choice of the guardian or (b) does not agree that the physical or medical condition of the disabled person satisfies the statute criteria.

Guardianships can be very helpful in managing the care of an elderly person. Anyone who is interested in having a guardian appointed for an elderly parent or friend may wish to contact an attorney experienced in estate law. A knowledgeable attorney can provide advice on the guardianship process and how to handle any objections.

Source: Washington Courts, "Guardianship & Alternatives: Supported Decision-Making Assistance For Adults," accessed on April 23, 2018

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