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Choosing when adult guardianship is necessary for a loved one can be a difficult decision to make. Whether adult guardianship is an entirely new concept to you, or you’ve been considering it for some time, there is no getting around how challenging it can be.

In this month’s article, we will explore the various circumstances in which adult guardianship may be necessary, and how it can help protect the rights and interests of adults that need more support than they can provide themselves.

Oftentimes, adult guardianship becomes a considerable option when an individual is unable to make sound decisions for themselves due to a mental or physical impairment. This might include individuals living with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, intellectual disabilities, or even severe mental illness. It may also include individuals who have suffered a sudden illness or injury that leaves them temporarily or permanently unable to take care of themselves.

Though taking steps toward pursuing adult guardianship can be overwhelming, there are many potential benefits that can provide peace of mind and ensure that your loved one’s needs are met. Plus, working with a qualified team of experts will help you better understand your rights and options throughout the process, keeping in mind what is appropriate for your unique situation. Keep reading to learn more.

Adult Guardianship: What Is It?

Put simply, adult guardianship is a legal arrangement in which a person is legally appointed to manage the personal and financial affairs of an adult individual who is unable to do so themselves. The decision is left to the court to decide whether an individual needs another person or entity to act as their legal guardian.

Under the circumstance that an individual does require adult guardianship, the appointed guardian is then responsible for making decisions related to the individual’s personal care, finances, and medical treatment.

Why is adult guardianship beneficial?

Adult guardianship is a critical tool for protecting the rights and interests of adults with an incapacity to take fundamental care of themselves. Perhaps an individual is unable to manage their financial affairs, make medical decisions, or take care of their personal needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Without a guardian, they may be vulnerable to financial exploitation, neglect, or even abuse.

Notably, adult guardianship can provide peace of mind for family members who may be concerned about their loved one’s well being. A guardian can ensure that their loved one is receiving appropriate medical care, living in a safe environment, and making decisions that align with their best interests.

Who is Adult Guardianship For?

It is important to note here that adult guardianship should only be considered as a last resort when no other options are available. There are alternatives to guardianship, such as power of attorney or even supported decision-making, which can be less restrictive and allow individuals to maintain a deeper level of autonomy.

However, guardianship can be necessary for adults who are incapacitated due to illness, genetic conditions, developmental disorders, or cognitive decline. Understanding the different circumstances in which adult guardianship is necessary, and why it can be beneficial for your family unit, can help you to understand if guardianship is the right choice for you and your loved one.

1. Adults Incapacitated Due to Illness

Individuals who have suffered a stroke, brain injury, or other debilitating illness that has left them unable to make decisions for themselves might require adult guardianship. A stroke or traumatic brain injury can cause permanent brain damage, and in some cases, cause physical impairment that make otherwise easy tasks very difficult.

Additionally, mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression can have significant implications for an individual that can affect their ability to make decisions.It is important to note the impacts of these illnesses on the adult person’s capacity to make safe decisions for themselves. In cases like these, an adult guardian can be appointed to make decisions on behalf of the individual, such as medical treatment, housing, and financial matters.

2. Genetic Conditions and Developmental Disorders

Adult guardianship may also be necessary for individuals living with genetic conditions such as Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), cerebral palsy, fragile X syndrome, or muscular dystrophy. Some of these disorders can cause intellectual disabilities, speech and language difficulties, or affect social communication and interaction. On the other hand, physical impairment may also ensue, such as mobility issues and lack of muscle tone.

Individuals with genetic conditions and developmental disorders may require support and accommodations to help them achieve their full potential. This may include therapies, educational support, and assistive technology. It is critical to recognize and support the unique needs of individuals with genetic or developmental disorders, and how to help them lead fulfilling lives.

These individuals may experience difficulty with daily tasks and making both big and small decisions for themselves. Adult guardianship is not always necessary for individuals living with these conditions and disorders. However, when the symptoms greatly affect decision making and physical abilities to self regulate, adult guardianship may be an appropriate option.

3. Cognitive Decline

Cognitive decline refers to the gradual loss of mental abilities such as memory, language, reasoning, and perception. This can be a normal part of aging or be caused by various medical conditions or diseases. Some examples may include dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), Parkinson’s disease, or Huntington’s disease. Each of these can cause progressive decline in thinking, communication, and memory, as well as an individual’s ability to perform daily tasks.

As stated before, it is important to understand that these conditions are not themselves indicative of whether or not an individual requires guardianship. When these conditions or diseases have strong enough impacts on the individuals’ capacity to make serious decisions or take care of their basic physical needs, there may be reason to pursue adult guardianship.

In order to establish guardianship, there must be clear evidence that the individual is incapacitated to the point where they are definitively unable to make decisions related to their personal care, finances, medical treatment, and overall well being.

This incapacity must be evaluated by a medical professional and documented in a court proceeding. It is important to note that incapacity is not the same as having different opinions or values than others. A person may have their own beliefs and values that differ from those around them, but as long as they are able to make informed decisions based on those beliefs, they are not considered incapacitated.

Overall, adult guardianship is an important tool for protecting the rights and interests of adults with disabilities. It can help ensure that individuals who are unable to make decisions for themselves or keep up with their physical needs receive the care and support they need.

If you are considering adult guardianship for a loved one, it is essential to consult with an experienced attorney who can guide you through the legal process. At Sutherland Family Law, we are committed to helping families navigate the complex legal issues surrounding adult guardianship. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn more.