Being appointed guardian of a loved one is a serious responsibility. As guardian, you are in charge of your loved one’s well-being and you have a duty to act in his or her best interest.
If an adult becomes mentally incapacitated, developmentally disabled, or has another disability which renders them incapable of making responsible decisions, the court will appoint a substitute decision-maker, often called a “guardian,” but in some states called a “conservator” or other term. Guardianship is a legal relationship between a competent adult (the “guardian”) and a person who because of incapacity or disability is not able to take care of his or her own affairs (“person under guardianship” or also known as the “ward” in some states).
If you have been appointed guardian, the following are things you need to know
- Read the court order. The court appoints the guardian and sets up your powers and duties. You can be authorized to make legal, financial, and health care decisions for the person under guardianship. Depending on the terms of the guardianship and state practices, you may or may not have to seek court approval for various decisions. If you aren’t sure what you are allowed to do, consult with a lawyer in your state.
- Fiduciary duty. You have what’s called a “fiduciary duty” to the person under guardianship, which is an extremely high standard. You are legally required to act in the best interest of the individual at all times and manage their money and property carefully. With that in mind, it is imperative that you keep your finances separate from your ward’s finances. In addition, you should never use the person’s money to give (or lend) money to someone else or for someone else’s benefit (or your own benefit) without approval of the court. Finally, as part of your fiduciary duty you must maintain good records of everything you receive or spend. Keep all your receipts and a detailed list of what the ward’s money was spent on.
- File reports on time. The court order should specify what reports you are required to file. The first report is usually an inventory of the person under guardianship’s property. You then may have to file yearly accountings with the court detailing what you spent and received on behalf of the individual. Finally, after the person under guardianship dies or the guardianship ends, you will need to file a final accounting.
- Consult the person under guardianship. As much as possible you should include the individual in your decision-making. Communicate what you are doing and try to determine what your ward would like done.
- Don’t limit social interaction. Guardians should not limit a ward’s interaction with family and friends unless it would cause the ward substantial harm. Social interaction is usually beneficial to an individual’s well-being and sense of self-worth. If the person has to move, try to keep him or her near loved ones.
For more information about guardianship, contact our office.