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Family | Guardianship

Guardianship for Disabled Adults

8 min read
Francesca Toledo, J.D.

by Francesca Toledo, J.D.

Once an individual turns 18, they are legally adults and considered able to make their own decisions. However, if an adult has a disability, then they may not have the capacity to make their best decisions and live life normally.

Establishing guardianship can be necessary to ensure a disabled adult gets the care and attention they need. A guardian is given certain rights and responsibilities, including the ability to make vital decisions affecting the disabled person’s life.

If you need guidance with a guardianship case, an unbundled lawyer can provide valuable legal assistance

Understanding Disabilities 

Generally, a disability is a physical or mental impairment. A disability can substantially impede an individual’s ability to live a normal life. 

Disabilities often include impairment to any of the following:

  • Movement
  • Thinking
  • Learning
  • Communicating
  • Remembering
  • Mental health

The World Health Organization describes disabilities as having three dimensions:

  • Impairment of an individual’s body or mind
  • Limitations of activity, including walking or seeing
  • Restricted participation in everyday activities, like working or engaging in social activities

Disabilities can arise for different reasons. Some individuals are born with disabilities, like Down Syndrome or muscular dystrophy. Disabilities can develop as a child grows and become evident later, like autism. Longstanding conditions that are not themselves disabling can worsen, causing a person to become disabled, like diabetes.

It is also common for people to develop disabilities from injuries such as brain injuries or spinal cord injuries. 

Disabilities are often long-term, affecting a person for an extended period. However, some disabilities can be short-lived. For example, if a person is in a coma, they could be considered disabled. When they get out of their coma, they may no longer be disabled. 

A disability can significantly affect a person’s capacity to live, work, maintain relationships, and make decisions. 

Guardianship Explained

Guardianship is an important legal tool for adults with disabilities. 

Before delving into a guardianship case, it’s helpful to understand what guardianship is, including what a guardian can do for a disabled adult and how to become a guardian. 

What is a Guardian?

A guardian is an individual appointed by the court with the power to watch over and make important decisions for a disabled person, called the ward. 

It is common for courts to appoint guardians for minors if a child needs an adult to watch over them. However, guardianship is also common for adults over 18 if they are disabled and unable to care for themselves. 

A guardian often plays a vital role in a disabled person’s life. 

Powers of a Guardian

When the court appoints a guardian, they are bestowed with various rights and powers. Some of the most significant powers a guardian is given over a ward include the following:

  • Ensuring the ward is consistently receiving the care and attention they need
  • Arranging the ward’s living situation
  • Handling the ward’s finances and assets
  • Making medical decisions for the ward

Additionally, in some states, the guardian is responsible for sending the court periodic updates regarding the ward. 

Because a guardian is given much responsibility they are expected to take their role seriously. Should a guardian not be able to perform their necessary tasks, they may be stripped of their title and authority.

Guardianship vs. Conservatorship 

Many confuse guardianship and conservatorship, but the two have distinct roles. 


In many states, when a person is appointed as guardian, they are in charge of the ward and the ward’s finances. However, in certain states, the guardian only has power over the ward, and the court appoints a separate party to manage the ward’s finances.


A conservator does not have power or responsibility over the ward, including medical or housing decisions. A conservator’s primary responsibility is handling the ward’s finances and making decisions regarding money and assets.

Moreover, some states utilize only the term “guardian” and specify the scope of guardianship involved. For example, a guardian can fall under the following definitions:

  • Guardian of the Person: A guardian who is solely responsible for making decisions affecting the ward.
  • Guardian of the Estate: A guardian who is only responsible for handling a ward’s finances, including assets and inheritances. 
  • Guardian of the Person and the Estate: A guardian who has power over both the ward and their finances.
  • Limited Guardian of the Estate, Person, or both: This refers to guardianship where the court determines the ward can make some decisions for themselves and provide the guardian limited powers. 

Guardianship can be tricky and determining how your state handles guardianship is critical. A local guardian attorney can explain the guardianship laws in your area to give you an informed idea of what you can expect and how best to handle your case.

How Is a Guardian for a Disabled Adult Chosen?

How a guardian for a disabled adult is chosen depends on their situation. 

If the ward can express themselves, the court may determine who the ward wants to serve as the guardian. Should the ward be unable to think or communicate, the court may turn to any available existing estate planning documents, including powers of attorney and wills. 

If the ward does not have any estate planning documents, it is up to the judge to decide who would be a fitting guardian. Judges prefer appointing individuals close to the ward, including spouses, parents, adult children, or siblings. 

Anyone considered for the role of guardian must first qualify. States have certain criteria a potential guardian must meet before the court will consider them, including the following:

  • They must be at least 18 years of age
  • They must not have an incapacity or disability themselves
  • They must not have a criminal record

Some states have additional requirements, for example, a prospective guardian cannot have filed for bankruptcy within seven years of seeking an appointment. 

Seeking Guardianship Appointment from the Court

Becoming a guardian requires a formal appointment from the court. You must initiate a guardianship case with the court to seek an appointment.

The first step is drafting and filing a petition with the court. The petition includes vital information, including why you’re seeking guardianship and what disability the potential ward suffers, including supporting documents.

Once you’ve filed the petition with the court, each state has their own process and procedure that you must follow. 

For example, some states require an investigation into the alleged disabled individual. This frequently entails physical and mental examinations and functional assessments to determine whether the individual requires a guardian.

Guardianship hearings are common. During the hearing, a judge can listen to the parties, examine the details of the case, and review the investigation findings before deciding to grant or deny the request to establish guardianship.

If the judge appoints a guardian, the new guardian is provided with formal documentation, giving them power over the ward. 

Guardianship Termination

Guardianship can end for several reasons.

A guardianship usually ends with the death of the ward. However, other events may result in the termination of guardianship.

Suppose the ward suffered from a temporary disability and reached a point where they no longer have the disability. In that case, they can petition the court to end guardianship formally.

Guardians can petition the court to terminate their responsibilities under guardianship if they feel they can no longer handle being a guardian. Alternatively, if a judge deems a guardian is not living up to their responsibilities, a judge can unilaterally decide to revoke the guardian’s powers. 

Guardianships for disabled adults are typically permanent unless a situation calls for the termination of guardianship. 

A Guardianship Attorney Can Provide Guidance

If you’re interested in seeking guardianship for a disabled adult, a guardianship attorney can provide valuable guidance.

A guardianship lawyer in your area is familiar with the laws and procedures of your state. They can address your questions and concerns and help you with many critical tasks:

  • Drafting and filing your petition with the court
  • Helping you gather evidence and documentation
  • Representing you in court
  • Assisting you with fulfilling your duties
  • Providing necessary support

While you do not need a guardianship attorney to handle your case, having one can provide peace of mind and help achieve a favorable outcome.

Count on an Unbundled Lawyer for Assistance with Your Guardianship Case

A guardianship lawyer can significantly benefit your case, but hiring one can be costly. Fortunately, an experienced unbundled lawyer can provide the same high-quality legal guidance while keeping costs low.

The only difference between a guardianship attorney and an unbundled guardianship lawyer is how services and fees are structured. While you hire a regular attorney to manage your case from start to finish, you can rely on an unbundled lawyer to handle the tasks you need the most help with while you handle the rest. Because you’re not paying for full representation, this allows you to save money on legal fees. 

Contact Unbundled Legal Help today to connect with an attorney for your guardianship issues.

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