Guardianships for children are rather straightforward because legally they are unable to make their own decisions due to their age. But a situation gets complicated when the person for whom a proposed guardianship is sought is an adult.
Every adult in the United States has certain rights, including liberty and freedom. A guardianship takes away or at least diminishes some of these inalienable rights. For this reason, the court takes assigning guardianships for adults seriously. There is a specific process to seek the appointment of guardians through the Orphans’ Court, to present medical evidence about alleged incapacitated persons and to understand what appointed guardians are required to do.
To start, the court will not appoint a guardian over an adult who is not incapacitated. The law states an incapacitated individual is a person whose ability to make or communicate decisions is partially or totally impaired so that he or she cannot manage his or her finances or cannot properly protect his or her own health and safety. Basically, if left alone, the person would likely suffer from serious financial harm or health issues because of the impairment.
If the court decides that someone is incapacitated, it then determines whether or not guardianship is necessary, preferring the least restrictive alternative, such as a Power of Attorney or Advance Directive for Healthcare prepared and signed before the person lost hir or her capacity. The goal is to help the person retain as much independence as appropriate. If the person improves sufficiently, the court may one day find there is no further need for guardianship. Even if that is not going to be possible, such as in a case where an adult has age-related cognitive issues, the court seeks to ensure the person retains some rights and ability to influence his or her life.
Planning ahead, through the preparation of estate planning documents, can help to avoid the need for seeking guardianship.