Guardianships: Someone to Watch Over Them

Michele Morgan, Vice President/Trust Officer MorganM_BUS003xqc

The one thing you should know about guardianships—also known as conservatorships—is that they protect individuals who are unable to make sound decisions for themselves. As court-ordered arrangements, they result in the appointment of an individual or corporation to handle that person’s care and/or financial matters.

The arrangement lasts as long as necessary. In the case of a minor, that may be until they reach the age of 18. For an adult, it could be a lifelong appointment or just until they sufficiently recover from a health issue.

Circumstances That Lead to the Need

Guardianships are subject to state laws, and established by a court proceeding in the individual’s home county. Where children are involved, there is typically a large sum of money—either an unexpected inheritance or a personal injury settlement. Adult guardianships generally arise due to a temporary or permanent disability or an injury.

When the need arises, there are two different roles created in a guardianship: one involving the “Guardian of the Person” where the named individual or corporation is appointed to oversee the needs and care of the individual. The second role is the “Guardian of the Estate” to oversee the individual’s financial matters.

Guardians can be family members, unrelated individuals or, as mentioned above, corporations. Where large sums are involved, judges often prefer to see a bank serve as the guardian of the estate or, at the very least, as a co-guardian to ensure the assets will remain in place to support the individual throughout their life. Regardless of who is appointed the court requires an annual report to ensure the current arrangements continue to serve the needs and best interests of the individual.

Guardianships for children end at the age of 18 with a proceeding that determines the individual is now capable of making rational and prompt decisions about their own care and finances. For adults, a physician typically supplies a statement verifying they’ve regained the capacity to assume responsibility for their own care and finances.

Guardianships versus Powers of Attorney or Estate Plans

The need for a guardianship arises from the lack of other legal documents, such as powers of attorney or an estate plan. Sometimes, family members are overwhelmed by the medical side of caring for a loved one or have trouble agreeing on a course of action. In such cases, they may petition the court to appoint an impartial corporate guardian, especially to oversee financial matters. This saves family members from having to account to the court for how money is spent and from having to reimburse the estate if any charges are deemed inappropriate later.

Compassion Is Part of the Arrangement

While having the court involved in the care and financial matters of a loved one may seem invasive, judges involved with cases like these typically act as extended family members, especially where juveniles are involved. They take a genuine interest in ensuring each person gets what they need to be the best they can be. Compassion carries the day.

To learn more about guardianships and how Old Second can be of assistance in this area, please call me at 630-844-3222. I’m here to help get you the answers you need as you consider your family’s options.

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