Guardianships may sometimes be necessary for Pennsylvania residents growing older if they are no longer able to make appropriate financial decisions for themselves. For example, if a person has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, he or she may lack the ability to pay bills, deposit checks or make appropriate financial choices. When this happens, a guardianship action may be filed, and the court may appoint a guardian of that person’s estate to handle finances.

Pennsylvania law defines who can be appointed as a guardian. A guardian may be a qualified person (relative or non-relative), a corporate fiduciary, a non-profit agency, a guardian support agency or a county agency. However, a person paid to provide residential services to the individual may not serve as his or her guardian.

Moreover, a person who has interests that conflict with the interests of the alleged incapacitated person may not serve as a guardian, unless no other alternative is available. That being said, a relative of the individual in need of guardianship, on its own, will not have a conflict of interest just because of the relationship.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recognizes that everyone has unique needs and abilities and, therefore, has established a system for the care of incapacitated persons. An incapacitated person, to the extent possible, shall be a part of the decision-making process in choosing a guardian of the estate. The Commonwealth also recognizes that it is important to find suitable individuals to serve as guardians.

When loved ones fail to plan ahead and do not have Durable Financial Powers of Attorney prepared, guardianships may be needed to take care of financial matters. It is important that appropriate persons, financial institutions or agencies be appointed by the Orphans’ Court. No one wants to see a loved one taken advantage of, so those who have a loved one in need of a guardian may want to seek the advice of an elder law attorney to ensure that a guardianship is filed in a timely manner and that an appropriate guardian is appointed.