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Guardianship is a legal process where a person is appointed by the Superior Court to make medical and personal decisions for another person.  In the guardianship papers the person subject to the guardianship is called the Respondent.  Sometimes this is a young adult with a profound disability, or an elder with dementia who is unable to advocate for their own personal care.   A guardian may be appointed for a Respondent who lacks the ability to meet essential requirements for physical health, safety, or self-care.   The appointment of a guardian must be necessary to prevent significant risk of harm to the Respondent’s physical health, safety, or self-care, and the Respondent’s identified needs cannot be met by a protective arrangement instead of guardianship or other less restrictive alternative.

Conservatorship is a similar legal process where a person is appointed by the Superior Court to handle a Respondent’s financial affairs.  A conservator may be appointed when a Respondent is unable to manage their property or financial affairs and help is necessary to keep the Respondent from losing their money or property.  

Before a guardian or conservator is appointed, the court will order the appointment of a Court Visitor who investigates the circumstances of each case carefully.  This includes a personal interview and a visit to the place where the Respondent lives.  An evaluation of the Respondent by a medical professional is also ordered.  The Court Visitor will prepare a report with their findings for the court to review.

Because these laws impact a Respondent’s freedom, the person who is seeking to impose a guardianship or conservatorship must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent is unable to manage their own affairs and that a less restrictive alternative is unavailable.  A Respondent has strong legal protections, including the right to a court-appointed attorney, and a trial before a judge or a jury as to whether a guardian is appointed and what rights the Respondent loses. 

Sometimes a guardianship or conservatorship can be limited in scope or duration.  For example, if a Respondent can still handle some financial decision making or self-care tasks, the guardian or conservator can be limited to managing the tasks the Respondent needs help with. 

Once appointed, a guardian must submit a plan for the Respondent’s care, including where the Respondent will live, the services the Respondent will receive, visits and communication between the Respondent and their loved ones, and goals for the Respondent.  A conservator’s plan must include a budget and information about management of the estate.  The plan is reviewed and approved by the court, with the opportunity for objection or comment.

The guardian must submit reports to the court and others periodically.  Those reports must be approved by the judge for the guardianship to continue.  If the guardian does not follow the reporting requirements, the guardian can be sanctioned or removed by the court.

The attorneys at Torres & Haroldson are at the forefront of this unique and changing area of law.  We represent guardians as well as concerned family members in guardianship matters throughout the region.  We are appointed as Court Visitors and serve as appointed counsel for Respondents.  We are experienced with all aspects of guardianship and conservatorship law and have the tools and knowledge to guide you in these matters. Contact us today for a free initial consultation.  Call now at 425-458-3170 or email us now at [email protected].

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