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Parties seeking to help and protect family members or loved ones who cannot make personal or financial decisions for themselves may elect to proceed with guardianships. Guardianship is a legal process where the court determines that an individual – either an incapacitated adult or a minor child – does not have the capacity or ability to make decisions and needs another person to make those decisions for them. Parties who seek guardianship may be family members concerned that the child or incapacitated adult is currently at risk in their environment and want to take on the legal responsibility of making decisions as necessary.

Anyone filing a petition for guardianship must provide notice to the incapacitated person and all others entitled to such notice. The guardian should be someone who is willing, able and suitable to act in the best interests of the incapacitated person. The court may also appoint a guardian ad litem to serve as an advocate for the individual who may make recommendations to the court.

Guardianship actions encompass guardianship of the person’s physical and emotional needs, guardianship of the person’s finances or both. Personal decisions include seeing that the person has food, clothing, shelter, health care and other basic needs met. Often, health care decisions or choices about the residence of the person need to be addressed. Financial decisions that need to be acknowledged include assessing current debts and assets and managing bank accounts and expenses for the protected person.

In appointing a guardian, the court may specify or limit the guardian’s authority. A guardianship may also be temporary when an emergency takes place, the welfare of the incapacitated person requires immediate action and no other person appears to have authority to act on their behalf.

Once appointed as guardian, the guardian is responsible for filing an inventory listing the value of all the property belonging to the protected person. Filing a financial accounting is also necessary, detailing how the protected person’s money has been spent. A guardian’s responsibilities for the protected person continue as long as they are court-appointed to serve.