How To Secure Elder Guardianship Of A Parent

Nate Birt

Written by Nate Birt on Mon Oct 24 2022.

Supporting your parents as they age can be among life’s greatest joys. Elder guardianship is a court-appointed legal relationship between an individual and elderly adult who can no longer take care of themselves. This legal step can help you keep your parents’ best interest top of mind by making sure trustworthy people are able to care for their finances and health needs. The following article is designed to help you learn more about this option and guide you through the process.

Supporting your parents as they age can be among life’s greatest joys. Elder guardianship is a court-appointed legal relationship between an individual and an elderly adult who can no longer take care of themselves. This legal step can help you keep your parents’ best interest top of mind by making sure trustworthy people are able to care for their finances and health needs.

Always consult an attorney before making decisions about elder guardianship. The following article is designed to help you learn more about this option and guide you through the process. 

Who can become a guardian?

Most often, a close family member obtains elder guardianship through the permission of a court in the state where the aging loved one lives. Sometimes this is also called a conservatorship, though this word often describes a guardianship that only oversees financial matters.

In cases where a close family member or other trusted person is unavailable, the court might appoint a private guardian. This person isn’t a relative. Rather, they have expertise in one or more areas of elder care. They might be paid out of the senior’s assets if they can afford it. In some cases, state funding might be available, or the private guardian might offer their services at no cost.

Public guardians also might be appointed in cases where no other people are available to help. Some states and cities have guardianship programs from which a guardian can be selected. 

When should I seek elder guardianship?

You might decide elder guardianship makes sense for your family for a few different reasons: 

  • Your parent might show signs that they need help making important life decisions. This could happen when your parent goes through a major change in their physical and mental well-being. For example, they might have been diagnosed with dementia, a mental illness, or even an intellectual disability.

  • Your parent might not have key legal documents in place, like a power of attorney, which lets others make financial decisions for them. In other cases, they could lack a health care advance directive, which gives a trusted party the right to make medical decisions on their behalf. Elder guardianship can ensure you are legally allowed to provide the help they need.

How can I seek elder guardianship?

If you think your parent’s health, finances, or overall living environment would greatly benefit from your help, you can file for elder guardianship. In most cases, anyone can file a petition with a court for elder guardianship. The entire process is likely to take weeks or even months. 

Keep in mind your parent has a variety of rights throughout the process, including: 

  • Notification of your request

  • The right to an attorney

  • The right to attend all of the court proceedings that might take place

  • Their attorney will also be able to cross-examine witnesses, bring forward evidence, and appeal any final decision

Because elder guardianship is a serious decision, courts often require that you provide evidence that is both clear and shows why your request is valid. You can support your request with documents from doctors or others showing that your parent could benefit from extra help.

What are alternatives to elder guardianship? What are the benefits and risks?

To help your parent remain independent for a longer period of time, encourage them to get legal documentation in place. This way, they can outline their wishes before any unexpected life events. When possible, ask your parents to work with an attorney to create necessary documents, like a power of attorney and a health care directive. 

Elder guardianship can have several benefits. These include:

  • Knowing that your parent’s health and finances are in the hands of a trusted person

  • Peace of mind that well-being will be a top priority 

There can be risks associated with elder guardianship, but know that elder guardianship is common and problems are rare. Risks include: 

  • All decisions and actions requiring approval from the guardian (including living location, medical decisions, and even the decision to vote)

  • If you’re the guardian, you may need to be more hands-on to make decisions 

Keep in mind that courts frequently require ongoing contact with guardians to ensure your parent is treated well. This can help provide you with confidence that you or another appointed guardian is doing the right thing for your parents. 

What are the possible outcomes of an elder guardianship petition?

A variety of options are available to the court deciding your elder guardianship petition. For example, the court might appoint an outside investigator or another person to make sure all appropriate evidence is considered. If this happens, recognize that it’s a normal part of the process.

At the end of the process, the court might make one of several decisions. The court could:

  • Grant full elder guardianship 

  • Allow a guardian to be appointed, with specific guidelines that need to be followed

  • Decide on a single guardian among several people who want to serve that role

  • Deny the request after deciding that your parent is able to make decisions on their own

Where can I learn more about elder guardianship? 

The best place to find more information about elder guardianship is from an attorney you trust. If you or your parent do not have a lawyer, look for an attorney with expertise in elder law. Additionally, it’s a good idea to do your homework to ensure you make an informed decision. The U.S. Department of Justice has helpful information on its Guardianship website.

Elder guardianship can provide a great option if you’re worried your parent can no longer make decisions on their own. There are multiple options available as to who can serve as a guardian, but the most important thing is to let your goal of helping your parents guide you in your choice.

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Nate Birt
Nate Birt

Nate Birt is the founder of Silver Maple Strategies, a consulting company that provides premium encouragement and communications solutions to help social purpose leaders make a lasting impact in harmony with their personal values. A University of Missouri journalism graduate, author and public speaker, Nate and his wife, Julie, live with their four children on a small farm in northeastern Missouri.