Can anyone be placed under a guardianship? What happens to the person’s ability to live their life after they are placed under the guardian’s care?
By Aaron McCarter
Most people have an image in their head when they think of a guardian, especially concerning an adult. What exactly is the process, how does it work, and what is the court trying to do when it appoints a guardian?
To be placed under a guardianship, a person generally has to be fully or partially disabled (meaning they can’t manage their financial affairs) or fully or partially incapacitated (meaning they can’t manage the essentials: food, clothing, shelter, safety, or other serious care).
A guardianship is started by a petition to the court to have the “ward” or “protectee” assigned a guardian. In the process, the ward has an attorney represent their interests. However, the question is always how far the court can go when appointing a guardian. Consider an interesting out-of-state example regarding someone who at first glance could manage their own affairs. The Washington Post article “Medical guardianship for D.C. woman known for 911 calls” looked at the case of Martha Rigsby, a woman who had incurred substantial medical bills due to 911 calls resulting from her frequent and continued (for years) bouts of fainting in public. Rigsby was eventually appointed a limited medical guardian despite the fact that she was able to live on her own, pay her own bills, and did not feel she needed a guardian to help her.
While Rigsby ultimately did have a guardian in place, the court was very narrow in their scope. The guardian was only overseeing medical decisions, not legal or financial affairs. Similar to this case, Missouri law provides for a full or limited guardianship depending on the specific case. In addition, Missouri provides that a ward is to live in the least restrictive environment possible; with any restraint only the minimum needed to protect the ward.
A guardianship can seem strange or upsetting at first to both the family and the person who may become the ward. However, a court is interested only in protecting someone who truly needs a bit of additional care that isn’t otherwise being provided. Additionally, if a ward’s condition improves, they can request for the court to re-evaluate the necessity of the guardianship.
Guardianships can be a time-consuming and potentially daunting process. The first steps to helping a family member or friend with the guardianship process it to consult a qualified estate planning attorney who can explain the process in detail.
For more information about guardianships and other effective estate planning in Liberty, MO and the Kansas City Area and to access free tools to organize your estate, visit our estate planning website.
Reference: The Washington Post (March 24, 2014) “Medical guardianship for D.C. woman known for 911 calls"