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How To Become a Guardian for an Adult

7 min read
Francesca Toledo, J.D.

by Francesca Toledo, J.D.

It’s common to hear the words “guardian” or “guardianship,” but what exactly do they mean? 

Guardianship is for individuals of any age, but an adult guardian helps those over 18, should they become incapacitated or incompetent. The court can give the adult guardian the legal power to make crucial decisions regarding the person’s life, health, and finances.

The process of becoming a guardian for an adult depends on the state, but typically involves going to court and having a judge formally appoint the guardian. 

If you’re interested in becoming an adult guardian, it’s helpful to understand the details of guardianship. Then, when you’re ready to take the next steps, an unbundled lawyer can help get you on the right path. We can put you in contact with an unbundled lawyer in your area today.

Adult Guardianship Explained

Adult guardianship allows an appointed individual, called the guardian, to take over for a specific individual, called the ward, when they are physically or mentally unable to make decisions for themselves. While a person could help a needy individual make these decisions without a court appointment, completing tasks is much more challenging.

The court’s backing gives the guardian more power and freedom to decide over a person’s medical needs, finances, personal affairs, and the like.

In some states, “guardianship” and “conservatorship” indicate the same duty. In others, guardianship and conservatorship represent different things. Guardianship bestows the power to make life and medical decisions, while conservatorship gives the authority to make financial decisions. 

If you’re unsure how adult guardianship is handled in your state, consult a guardianship attorney for more information. 

Who Needs an Adult Guardian?

Some individuals can benefit from a guardian. Adults over 18 with mental and physical disabilities or incapacities should have adult guardians.

In most states, the court must deem an individual incapacitated to become a ward with a guardian. Therefore, just because a person makes terrible decisions, this does not mean they are incapacitated. 

Additionally, a mental illness or developmental disability does not automatically render a person incapable of making their own decisions and therefore incompetent. But a person with a mental disability or illness could well be competent enough to make their own decisions.

Usually, the court will need clear and convincing evidence that an individual suffers from an incapacity to grant guardianship.

What Does an Adult Guardian Do?

Courts grant adult guardians the authority to take over certain tasks the ward cannot accomplish independently. The guardian’s powers can include the following duties:

  • Making financial decisions
  • Making medical decisions
  • Ensuring the ward receives adequate care
  • Maintaining the ward’s property and assets

The guardian’s responsibilities can differ depending on the ward’s situation and the state where guardianship is established.

Who Can the Court Appoint as an Adult Guardian?

A guardian must meet specific requirements. While they vary by state, typically, the requirements include the following points:

  • The individual must be at least 18 years of age
  • They must be of sound mind
  • They must not have a criminal conviction for a felony or misdemeanor

The court can appoint anyone to be a guardian, and the guardian doesn’t have to be a relative of the ward. A judge can also select more than one guardian, with two individuals serving as co-guardians. The court may require guardians to complete training depending on the state and the judge’s preferences.

But some individuals can never be guardians, including the following persons:

  • Minors
  • Incompetent individuals
  • Convicted felons

Depending on your state’s laws, other details may disqualify you from being an adult guardian. 

How To Become an Adult Guardian

Becoming an adult guardian varies by state. However, the steps required to become a guardian are commonly the same in most states.

Draft and File Court Documents

The first step to guardianship is gathering and preparing the required documentation to file with the court. With these documents, you will draft and file a petition. The petition essentially asks the court to grant guardianship of the proposed ward for the specified reasons. 

You must also pay court fees which could range from a few hundred dollars to $1,000.

Serve the Other Party

In some states, once you’ve filed the petition and supporting documents with the court and opened your guardianship case, you must serve the other party.

Service of process is the procedure allowing the petitioning party to give the other party, the respondent, notice of the impending legal case. In a guardianship case, the opposing party would be the individual needing an adult guardian and required relatives.

In other states, the court appoints a third party to visit the proposed ward so they can assess the ward’s needs for a guardian and provide notice of the guardianship case.

Attend the Guardianship Hearing

The hearing is a necessary step in finalizing the appointment of a guardian. 

During the hearing, the petitioner will appear before the assigned judge and state why the proposed ward needs them to be their adult guardian. The proposed guardian should be prepared with proof and documentation of the proposed ward’s incapacity and guardianship needs.

Depending on the proposed ward’s abilities, they also may participate in the hearing unless they are physically or mentally unable.

After the Court Grants Guardianship

If the judge feels the appointment of a guardian is necessary and appropriate, they can grant the guardianship at the conclusion of the hearing.

Sometimes, the newly appointed guardian must file additional paperwork after the hearing and may need to periodically file documentation with the court during their time as guardian. 

How Long Does Adult Guardianship Last?

Generally, adult guardianship lasts indefinitely during the ward’s incompetency or incapacitation. 

In some cases, the letter of guardianship provided by the court formally appointing a guardian may have an expiration date, requiring the guardian to follow up with the court and provide information regarding the status of the ward. If the guardian fails to follow up, the guardianship could automatically terminate, and the guardian would need to go to court for reinstatement. 

A guardianship attorney in your state can provide more detailed information regarding how long your guardianship lasts and any subsequent steps required to maintain the guardianship.

Adult Guardianship vs. Power of Attorney

Many confuse adult guardianship with powers of attorney. While the two have similar functions, differences exist in how the court appoints the designated individual and how much power they have.

A power of attorney is a document allowing an individual to select another person, the agent, giving them authority to act on their behalf. There are different power of attorney documents, giving agents certain powers. 

For example, if you want your agent to make healthcare decisions exclusively, you can create a healthcare power of attorney. If you want your agent to decide for you now and in the case of incompetency, you can have a durable power of attorney.

Power of attorney documents often help make up a comprehensive estate plan. An estate plan encompasses documents that plan for the future, including incapacity, incompetency, and death.

But, the person requiring an adult guardian does not get to choose who they want to act as their guardian — the probate court decides who the guardian will be. In many cases, adult guardianship requires more time and energy and is often more costly. 

Additionally, most courts monitor adult guardianships and require updates and periodic check-ins, whereas agents under a power of attorney do not need court monitoring.

How Can a Guardianship Attorney Help?

Navigating the adult guardianship process can be daunting, but a guardianship lawyer can help you achieve your desired outcome.

Your attorney can help with the following tasks associated with your case:

  • Draft legal documents
  • Initiate the guardianship case with the court
  • Gather relevant proof and evidence
  • Represent you in court

Having a skilled guardianship attorney on your side takes the guesswork out of handling your case and gives invaluable peace of mind. 

Allow an Unbundled Lawyer To Help You with Your Adult Guardianship Case

Hiring a guardianship attorney is beneficial but can be costly. An unbundled lawyer can help cut costs while providing high-quality legal services.

An unbundled lawyer only differs from a traditional lawyer in the way they offer their services. While a conventional attorney handles your entire case, an unbundled lawyer is available to you for the most important parts of your case. You can manage your own case to limit expenses, but feel confident knowing you have a lawyer available to you for activities that seem too complicated for you to handle.

Unbundled Legal Help has a network of knowledgeable and experienced lawyers ready to help you. We can match you today with an unbundled guardian lawyer in your area.

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