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What is Guardianship?

Grandfather and grandchildren portraitMost folks are familiar with the terms “adoption” or “foster care”.  We know these terms involve caring for children and/or making them a permanent part of our family.  Are you familiar with the term “guardianship”?  You may not be as familiar with it as the other two, but chances are you will have the occasion to use it during your lifetime.

Guardianship means to be legally responsible for someone’s personal and property affairs.    This normally happens when older relatives, like our parents, become confused and cannot deal with these matters themselves.  If a parent is not mentally able to make medical decisions for him or herself, the legal guardian will make those decisions.  A guardian will handle the individual’s money and bills.  A guardian can even take charge and sell property. 

Some families have disabled family members that require someone to take over managing their personal and property affairs.  The family member may have been born with a disability or become disabled due to illness or accident.  A guardian will make important health and financial decisions when the disabled family member cannot.

Of course, there are times when age is the reason someone may need a guardian.  Suppose there are minor children in a family without parents due to death or the inability to care for them.  These minors are not legally able to make important decisions.  Guardians are declared in court and will make all the decisions a parent might make until the child is of a legal age.

It is not uncommon for someone to name a guardian in advance of becoming unable to do for themselves.  When a couple has a child, they pick Godparents.  These Godparents are in essence appointed guardians.  The parents have given a lot of thought as to the people best suited to care for the children.  Guardians for the elderly or disabled probably weren’t thinking of until the need arose.  It is extremely important to make sure the guardian that is appointed is honest and trustworthy.  Too many times a guardian may not have the individual’s needs in mind and help themselves with property and money.

If you are thinking about your future as you age, it is an excellent idea to contemplate who you would choose as a guardian should it come to that.  Giving the subject thought before you need one will keep the choice a better one than rushing to find one at the last minute.