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If an individual is unable look after one's own affairs, a Guardianship may be in order. A Guardianship is a proceeding in which the Probate Court appoints one person to act on behalf of another. Guardianships are generally established for individuals who are minors or for those deemed to be incompetent. If a Guardianship is approved, those individuals are referred to as "wards".
A court appointed Guardian carries tremendous power over a ward. The Guardian can handle finances for the ward, pay bills, place the ward in a nursing home, and consent or refuse medical treatment. Because a Guardianship places severe restrictions on an individual's independence, the court requires the person seeking to establish the Guardianship to prove the incompetency of the proposed Ward. If proof is made, a Guardianship can be established over a person and over his or her property (called an estate).
A Guardianship can be a costly, cumbersome and time consuming process. Once the Guardianship is established, the Guardian must get court approval for each expenditure he or she makes with the ward's funds. The Guardian must take a detailed inventory of all of the ward's assets. At the end of each year of the Guardianship, the Guardian must file an accounting, showing every receipt to and expenditure from the ward's bank account. The law sets up these safeguards to ensure that the Guardian does not take advantage of the ward.
Because of the numerous expenses and obstacles associated with Guardianship, (attorney fees, filing fees, etc) many families prefer to avoid the process and pursue more efficient means to handle the affairs of their loved ones. Properly drafted power of attorney documents for finances and health care can often accomplish many of the same goals of the Guardianship by granting a trusted person the authority to act for one's self without direct Court Supervision. However, for those who fail to take these steps of advanced planning, a Guardianship is often the only choice.
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