What Does It Mean to Have a Guardian?

Guardianships aren’t the most commonly talked about part of caring for elders, but unfortunately, they do become occasionally necessary. Not everyone has a power of attorney set up before they become incapacitated, either because they put it off until it is too late, or because the onset of their incapacitating condition is so sudden, they have no time to prepare. Either way, it is important to know what a guardian is, just in case a guardian becomes necessary for you or your loved ones.

In legal terms, a guardian is someone appointed by the court to make medical and financial decisions for someone who has become incapacitated but has no Power of Attorney to determine who will look after their affairs. To institute a guardianship, a complaint is filed with the Surrogate in the appropriate county seeking to have the person declared legally incapacitated. If the Court agrees that the person is incapacitated, it will appoint someone (usually a family member) to be the person’s guardian, either until the person is no longer incapacitated, or until the person’s death.

A guardian is entrusted with the duty and authority to manage the incapacitated person’s financial and personal interests. This means the guardian manages their property and bank accounts, pays their bills, gets them any necessary medical attention, and, if necessary, goes to court on their behalf. It also means the guardian can be held legally responsible if the incapacitated person’s property is mismanaged, or if they are mistreated under the guardian’s care. A person may also be deemed to have capacity to make some decisions but not others, such as retaining the ability to consent to medical procedures, while a guardian is appointed to handle the person’s financial affairs. Being a guardian is a serious task, and one that should never be handled lightly.

If you are looking into getting a guardian for a loved one or are planning your estate and want to set up a power of attorney, you will want the advice of skilled guardianship law attorneys to guide you. The attorneys at Hunziker, Jones & Sweeney, P.A., will help you put together a plan that is right for you. Just send us an email at info@hjslawoffice.com (or use our contact us form), and we will reply as quickly as possible. You can also reach us by phone at (973) 256-0456.

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