I posted briefly about how a guardianship can be helpful if your loved one is unable to make decisions for herself. But before petitioning for guardianship, I always caution families to make sure it really is the best resort that serves your loved one’s needs. There is no set list of what medical conditions require a guardian to be appointed. The majority of people with disabilities are able to live independently and ask for assistance as needed on their own. Merely having a disability does not require an order taking away an adult’s autonomy and ability to make decisions. When you ask the court to be appointed as a guardian, you will specifically need to identify what other steps you have taken, and why those measures do not meet your family member’s needs. There are a few options that may be available to help your loved one:
Power of attorney – A power of attorney for financial or medical decisions are part of standard estate planning, and are some of the most important documents you can have. The documents designate someone to make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. You can even specify that if a guardian needs to be appointed, that it be the same person you designate in your powers of attorney. These documents require the person signing them to be competent, and able to make their own decisions. Having a power of attorney in place can be a lifeline if someone suffers a sudden medical emergency which leaves her unable to communicate or understand what she is being told.
Community support services – Sometimes an adult may need help in specific areas of daily living, but is otherwise able to function independently. Depending on where you live, there may be various types of community support options available. Home care workers can visit regularly to make sure someone is taking prescribed medication at the proper dosages. For adults who struggle with handling money or bank accounts, there are money management supports which can help to monitor bank account activity.
Family support – In many cases, adults with special needs already have substantial supports from their immediate and extended family, and no court involvement is ever necessary. These individuals may be physically healthy and receiving Social Security Disability or other benefits through a representative payee and live with their family members. Their doctors and other providers may know who their family support members are and they are willing to communicate with those family members. In those circumstances, they may not need a guardianship if their needs are already being met.
Of course, not every incapacitated adult’s needs can be met outside of a formal guardianship, and that process is available to those who need it. But before filing a legal pleading, it is best to consider what your loved one’s needs really are, whether they are being met right now, and whether they are unable to be met in the absence of a court order. Taking the time to ask these questions will not only enable you better assist your family member, it will also help you articulate for the court what other measures you have considered and why they are not effective.