What is the one thing that every single person on Earth is doing right this second? Aging. It may be a cliché, but it’s true that every single one of us is growing older, and there is not a thing we can do to change that. What we can do, however, is make sure that our rights are protected in the event that we become unable to care for ourselves in our old age.
The field of elder law makes specific provisions for protecting the interests of seniors who have become incapacitated. There are several methods of going about this, but many of them involve some type of guardianship.
Conservatorship And Elder Law
Guardianship for elders, also called conservatorship, is not the same as it is for children. Filing a petition for conservatorship is a serious matter, and it’s best to consult with an expert in elder law before starting the process.
It is important to determine at the beginning of the process what kind of conservatorship is required. Full guardianship means that the guardian, or appointee, would have full control over the ward’s life, including making financial and medical decisions. If this is not necessary, there are several varieties of limited guardianship, including medical, financial, or co-guardianship, when the conservator shares that duty with another capable adult. Another possibility is temporary guardianship, which is meant to provide for short-term care in the event of an illness or other brief incapacitation.
In order to establish guardianship for an adult, the person applying for guardian status must be able to prove that the elderly person is unable to care for herself. The court will not just take one person’s word for it; the potential guardian must be able to provide proof to back up the petition. The first step is to consult a physician. If that physician believes that your elderly relative is indeed disabled and should be made a ward of the petitioner, then he or she will provide a physician’s report that includes the date of the exam and an explanation of why the physician believes that the patient is incapacitated. With that report in hand, the potential conservator can then file a petition with the court.
Once the petition is filed, a judge will assign a guardian ad litem, a lawyer who is responsible for representing the elderly person’s legal rights. The guardian ad litem will consult with the alleged ward and provide another opinion about whether that person does indeed require a conservator.
In addition, copies of the petition will be served to the elder in question as well as to certain close relatives. These notices should be served at least 14 days prior to the court hearing so that the elder or the family can object to the guardianship if they wish to. This ensures that no one can secure guardianship of an elder without the rest of the family’s knowledge and reduces the likelihood of abuse.
At the court hearing, the petitioner will have to convince the judge that the alleged ward is indeed disabled and that the petitioner would be an appropriate legal guardian and would adequately protect the ward’s interests. If the petitioner is able to make a convincing case and the guardian ad litem agrees, chances are good that the conservatorship will be granted.
This is not an easy process, and, as with any legal proceeding, it requires mountains of paperwork. Before beginning the process of obtaining conservatorship, it’s a good idea to consult with a specialist in elder law. With the assistance of a qualified attorney, the process will be much less intimidating for everyone involved.