In Pennsylvania, guardianships are sometimes sought over adults who can no longer handle their own medical or placement decisions. Those appointed as guardians have a lot of responsibility for their wards, which responsibilities are grouped into two basic categories. A Guardian of the Estate will usually have responsibility for a person’s assets, while a Guardian of the Person will have responsibility for the care and custody of the ward.

With respect to the latter responsibility, it is important for Pittsburgh residents to understand that Pennsylvania law does not allow a guardian to treat an adult, even if he or she is incapacitated, like a small child. The guardian does have the power to decide where his or her ward will live and how the person’s basic needs will be met, but the guardian is also supposed to assist the ward in developing self-reliance and independence, if possible.

Accordingly, a Guardian of the Person in Pennsylvania has the basic responsibility to advocate for the ward to third parties and to look to the best interests of the ward in making medical decisions. It also means that the guardian may look for opportunities to let the ward make certain decisions, as appropriate, without help.

In the spirit of these responsibilities, Pennsylvania law also prohibits a Guardian of the Person from making certain decisions without court authority. For example, a guardian may not prohibit the incapacitated person from getting married or require the ward to get divorced. The guardian also may not consent to certain medical tests or procedures, such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

For Pittsburgh residents who pursue guardianships of loved ones, they should do so with the best of intentions and should understand what their responsibilities are if they are appointed to these important positions.