Sometimes people lose the capacity to take care of themselves or to make the day-to-day and long-term decisions that are part of the business of living. There are as many responses to these circumstances as there are people on the planet. Establishing some form of legal guardianship is one of them.
Depending on the individual’s needs, the court delegates certain rights and responsibilities of said individual to his or her guardian. But with any guardianship, the guiding principle is that the court will strive to limit the guardian’s sphere of influence and preserve as much of the individual’s autonomy as possible.
Physical or mental incapacity
If an individual’s physical or mental health has declined to the point that they cannot take care of themselves, the court can establish a guardianship (guardian of the person). The appointed guardian attends to the personal care and manages the medical treatment of the afflicted person.
If the individual can no longer manage their affairs, the court may establish a conservatorship (guardian of the estate). The conservator takes care of the estate, paying bills and handling financial matters, meaning anything that is the subject of ownership. The responsibilities the conservator takes on vary with the estate and may include:
- Marshalling and protecting assets
- Obtaining property appraisals
- Protecting assets from loss
- Receiving income for the estate
- Making disbursements for the estate
- Obtaining court approval prior to the sale of assets
- Reporting annually to the court regarding the status of the estate
Courts make decisions about the scope of guardianship on a case-by-case basis. There is no one answer, no one-size-fits-all response to these challenges. Effective legal counsel can help people sort through their circumstances and choose apt options for the care of their loved ones.