Summary: If a parent’s mental health has deteriorated to the extent that they are constantly confused, making irrational decisions, cannot take care of themselves, or are putting themselves in potentially dangerous situations – then it might be time to consider guardianship.
For many adult children, as our families age, we begin to notice a reversal in the roles of parent and child. When we were little, our parents took care of us – making sure we had plenty to eat, everything we needed for school, had regular medical check-ups, etc. But at some point, the roles begin to change as the children get more involved in managing our parents’ finances, double-checking that our parents are going to their doctor’s appointments, and that there’s plenty of food and supplies in the house. This is a natural, normal progression. But at what point should a child step in and seek a guardianship for their parent or parents? In our latest blog, Siedentopf Law discuss situations in which a child could consider guardianship.
What is a guardian?
A guardian is a court-appointed individual who is responsible for the care of another person – when that person is otherwise not able to take of themselves due to age, health, or other issues. Duties and responsibilities of a guardian can include daily needs, housing, nutrition, medical care, shopping, etc. A guardian typically works in tandem with a conservator, who is a court-appointed individual responsible for managing a person’s financial needs and assets. In other words, the guardian takes care of the person while the conservator takes care of the finances and bills. It is possible for a guardian and conservator to be the same person. (For more information you can watch our video about the differences between a guardian and a conservator).
When a person becomes a legal guardian for another individual, they are essentially taking over that other person’s legal rights and responsibilities. As such, this is a major decision and it should not be taken lightly. If a parent just needs help with certain aspects of their life, such as help with cooking meals, cleaning the house, transportation to the store or appointments, or help with finances – this is likely not the time to seek guardianship. However, if a parent’s mental health has deteriorated to the extent that they are constantly confused, making irrational decisions, cannot take care of themselves, or are putting themselves in potentially dangerous situations – then this may be the time to consider guardianship.
Signs It’s Time To Seek Guardianship For Mom or Dad
If you are unsure whether your parent needs a legal guardian, it might help to put yourself in their shoes. What would your parent want? At what point would they want to relinquish their personal rights? Would they want you to explore other care options or estate planning tools?
In addition to guardianship, there are a few additional estate planning options for you and your parents to consider. The first is a Power of Attorney, which is a legal document enabling someone to act on your behalf in the event of incapacity or disability. A power of attorney can help manage financial matters, real estate transactions, and other legal decisions – without taking away the parents’ legal rights. (For more, you can watch our video on the difference between guardians and powers of attorney.) Also, in Georgia, an individual can name a medical decision maker (also known as a health care proxy) in their advance directive for health care. A medical decision maker can look at medical records, speak with doctors, and help make decisions about medical testing and treatment – if that other person is unable to do so because of injury or illness. If a parent already has a power of attorney and a medical decision maker in place, this means that someone is already authorized to help with finances and medical treatment; this can avoid the need for a guardianship.
While it is important to have an estate plan in place to take care of yourself, your loved ones, and your assets, sometimes, seeking a guardianship for our loved ones is also necessary. Being able to identify these situations and knowing the legal options will ensure that everyone is prepared if/when the time comes. If you have more questions about guardians, conservators, powers of attorneys, or, if you are interested in an estate planning consultation, contact Siedentopf Law at (404) 736-6066 or via our online form.
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