Understanding Guardianship for Young Adults with Disabilities

Understanding Guardianship for Young Adults with Disabilities

As a parent, friend, or family member of a young adult with a disability, you are intimately aware of your loved one’s capabilities and limitations. This person may require assistance in making important decisions that impact their quality of life, health, education, or financial wellbeing, among others. While acting as an informal advisor provides some level of support, there may come a time when a legally-binding arrangement better serves your loved one’s best interest. 

Securing a legal guardianship to act on a young adult’s behalf involves working through a complicated court process. Common missteps typically cause everyday people to suffer delays, refile cour documents, and even start the process over. Compounding the problems associated with the dense bureaucracy, there are no one-size-fits-all guardianships for young adults. At Lilac City Law, we work with loving families every day to navigate the guardianship process. If you are considering a young adult guardianship, these are things you can anticipate during the process. 

What You Need To Know About Guardianships

Caring people outside the legal professions often believe that securing a legal guardianship is their only option to protect a loved one. This is not necessarily the case. Several alternative options may adequately resolve any concerns or needs. Washington State’s guardianship statutes require other legal pathways to be considered. Moving forward with a young adult guardianship filing could prove a waste of time and resources unless the following items are considered first. 

Education Representative

In Washington State, an automatic Transfer of Rights occurs when a minor turns 18 years old. In instances of minors with disabilities, the school district may notify parents, guardians, and the student before this transfer. It’s not uncommon for loved ones to promptly file for guardianship rights as the age of majority approaches. But retaining rights over a young adult with a disability can have unforeseen negative results. For instance, a guardianship could impact the person’s right to vote, among others. Becoming a legally designated educational representative limits authority and decision-making power. But it also leaves the individual’s other rights intact. 

Payee Representative

Guardianships for young adults tend to deliver broad decision-making powers. But when a loved one only needs assistance in niche areas, becoming a legal representative can have advantages. Representative payees typically field revenue such as Social Security Disability benefits on behalf of the person and oversee their bill-paying obligations. This legal designation limits oversight to financial matters without impacting other rights. 

Power of Attorney

A somewhat broader solution may be gaining a power of attorney. This allows loved ones to make informed decisions on financial, medical, and other essential life issues for the young adult. This designation is typically voluntarily transferred by the young adult.  

Wide-reaching alternatives to a young adult guardianship also include items such as a special needs trust, and vulnerable adult protection orders, among others. In all likelihood, the court will ask to what degree alternatives were considered or pursued before agreeing to a guardianship arrangement. If you have not thoroughly explored these possibilities, your guardianship petition could be rejected. That means the time invested would be wasted as the court sends you back to square one. 

Filing Young Adult Guardianship Paperwork

A young adult guardianship attorney can help decide the most straightforward pathway for protecting your loved one’s best interest. Having an attorney who routinely works through this process, your petition will be strengthened by the fact alternatives have been explored. Articulating the reasons why a guardianship provides the best possible protection and care will help avoid the court denying the petition and forcing you to start all over. 

The time saved by diligently navigating the process can help avoid a gap between when the person turns 18 years old, and the guardianship begins. Although the guardianship tends to be rigorous and requires complicated filings, it can be expedited in a matter of months if no errors or missteps occur. That being said, these are standard documents that are required to be filed with the court, among others. 

  • Petition for Guardianship 
  • Guardian ad Litem Order
  • Notice of Petition 
  • Declaration of Service
  • Order Appointing Guardian
  • Declaration of Proposed Guardian
  • Guardian Oath
  • Mandated Guardianship Training Declaration 
  • Standby Guardian 
  • Guardianship Inventory

Failing to file accurate petitions supported by thorough documentation ranks among the primary reasons why everyday people suffer delays in the young adult guardianship process. Financial concerns often drive the decision to try and negotiate the high legal standards and bureaucracy. Working families are often pleased to discover they may qualify for no-cost court filings and guardian ad litem services. Enlisting the help of an experienced guardianship attorney can save you time, as well as money. 

Common Steps To Secure A Young Adult Guardianship

Although the documentation required to petition the court for a guardianship can be quite stringent, judges understand that a vulnerable community member sometimes needs the support of loved ones. The court proceedings are designed to deliver that support while ensuring the young adult’s best interests are served. 

Commonly acceptable reasons to petition the court include a disabled minor nearing the age of 18, inability to provide self-care, or manage finances. It may also be necessary to intervene when a disabled person suffers from neglect or is being exploited. If you are seeking a young adult guardianship, these are procedural elements you can expect.

  • Guardianship Training: If you are a non-professional or “layperson” in legal jargon, the court will mandate that you undergo guardianship education. Training sessions are generally free of charge and can be conducted online. The coursework typically takes about two hours and outlines a guardian’s duties and responsibilities. The court will require a declaration of completion. You can save time by completing the sessions before petitioning the court. 
  • Petitioning For Guardianship: The paperwork mentioned above will need to be completed and supporting documentation compiled. With the help of your guardianship lawyer, a guardian ad litem candidate may be included. Having a diligently prepared filing can save substantial time and avoid common setbacks.  
  • Court-Appointed Guardian Ad Litem: At the initial court hearing, a guardian ad litem is usually appointed. This certified professional will conduct an independent review and provide the court with a report. You can expect an in-home visit, and additional professionals may be included. It’s not unusual for a social worker to accompany the guardian ad litem. These professionals consider the environment and ask questions to understand whether the proposed guardianship is in the young adult’s best interest. 
  • Guardianship Hearing: During the formal hearing, judges ask specific questions to determine whether a guardianship is in the person’s best interest. It’s not unusual for a judge to bring up alternatives, and your legal representative will need to articulate why the petition before the court is the best option. Parties who are against the guardianship may also speak at the hearing. Your lawyer can cross-examine any opposing parties and making arguments on your behalf. 
  • Letters of Guardianship: Should the court rule in your favor, a formal document will be issued that transfers decision-making powers to the guardian. The letters may also outline certain restrictions.

The young adult guardianship process does not necessarily have a specific timetable assigned to case review and completion. A diligently drafted petition with supporting documentation can save you a significant amount of time. And, having completed to guardianship training in advance helps facilitate the process. Other important time-related issues include being available for the guardian ad litem visit and potential follow-up questions.

Working With An Experienced Guardianship Attorney Saves Time

Although the court system can be challenging to negotiate for everyday people, lawyers who secure vital guardianships for community members have the skills and experience to expedite the process. Along with common pitfalls such as misfiled court papers and inadequate supporting documents, laypeople sometimes don’t indicate the scope of guardianship. Judges may be willing to order a limited guardianship rather than agree to full and unfettered decision-making authority. 

When everyday people try to petition the court on their own, these are the types of issues that get them bogged down. By working with an experienced young adult guardianship law firm, your case can flow through the court system seamlessly. Having a qualified legal professional to answer technical legal questions helps everyday people overcome potential setbacks and keep the process fast-tracked. 

If you have a minor child approaching 18 years old or are considering securing a guardianship for other reasons, Lilac City Law provides determined legal services that support our vulnerable community members. Contact our law office and schedule a young adult guardianship consultation today.

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What is Permanent Guardianship of a Child?

What is Permanent Guardianship of a Child?

When you obtain permanent guardianship of an individual, you are requesting a permanent relationship between you as the guardian and the individual to be created. Permanent guardianships can often not be terminated unless the guardian or courts feel it is best. The term permanent guardianship may also be used when a person wishes to obtain guardianship of someone that is considered to be in the custody of the state, though this type of arrangement can be difficult to secure. There are many U.S. courts that will allow permanent guardianship through the court process if it is deemed in the best interest of the individual. 

Once granted permanent guardianship, the new guardian will have the responsibility of providing for the individual in the same way that a natural guardian is expected to. This includes but is not limited to providing a safe environment for them to live, provide health care, and education if necessary. The guardian will also have the responsibility of making decisions on the person’s behalf medically and financially. 

When May Obtaining Guardianship Be Necessary?

While adults have the legal right to make decisions on their own behalf, if someone becomes incapacitated physically or mentally, they may lack the capacity to make reasonable decisions on their own. In this instance, it may be necessary for a new guardian to be appointed. Another situation where permanent guardianship may be necessary is when there is no one available to take care of an individual who lacks the capacity to care for themselves. Permanent guardianship does not only extended to the physical health and well-being of an individual but also their estate and assets. The guardian is responsible to protect and utilize these assets for the person in a way that is consistent with their wishes and care. 

There are also instances when a guardian should be put in place quickly if the individual’s capacity to make decisions has been lessened. Signs that immediate guardianship is needed include:

  • The Lack of a Power of AttorneyUnfortunately, there are many people who will take advantage of those with limited mental or physical capacities, and if there is no Power of Attorney on file, the result could be dangerous. If you see that your loved one seems as though they may sign anything in front of them, they could benefit from the guidance of a guardian.
  • Property or Assets Need to Be Sold: If you loved one needs to have their assets sold to obtain money for their future, it is advisable for someone to obtain guardianship so that they are not taken advantage of during the process and to ensure that the funds go where they are intended to.
  • Disagreement About Residence: If your loved one is unable to take care of themselves where they are currently living, and accommodations cannot be made to keep them there safely, you may need to contain guardianship to ensure they are in a safe residence that can provide them with the care that they need. 
  • Major Medical Issues: If your loved one is having a difficult time understanding a major medical diagnosis or the treatment that is required, they may need a guardian to make medical decisions on their behalf. Even if they seem capable, it may be advisable as the illness can cause mental capacity to decline or make understanding information more difficult.  

What Process Is Required to Obtain Permanent Guardianship?

While the process for obtaining permanent guardianship will vary from state to state, there are some basic steps that the process is likely to entail no matter the jurisdiction where guardianship is being filed for. 

  1. You will need to file a petition to obtain legal guardianship of the individual and pay any required fees for the process.
  2. You may need to submit to visits, interviews, or background checks from the court if deemed necessary to determine if the action is in the best interest of the individual. 
  3. After all of the paperwork and interview process is completed, the court will need to approve the request, and you will be responsible for signing an oath to uphold the responsibilities that come along with guardianship. 

What Will Your Responsibilities Be After Obtaining Permanent Guardianship? 

Your responsibilities of guardianship will largely have to do with the capacity of the person you are obtaining guardianship over. Some of the responsibilities that may come with guardianship include:

  • Determining a safe place for the person to live
  • Providing monitoring for their living environment and ensuring that it is safe and clean
  • Being available to consent to any necessary medical treatments and procedures
  • Making deiminations on how the person’s finances, benefits, and assets will be allocated and handled
  • Paying any bills the person has 
  • Managing and maintaining any real estate or property that the person has
  • Determining, consenting to, and providing monitoring if there are any non-medical services necessary for the person’s well-being, such as therapy
  • Providing permission for the release of confidential financial and medical information is necessary
  • Maintaining records of all of the person’s expenses
  • Aiding in decisions regarding end of life care and medical intervention
  • Acting on their behalf when dealing with creditors
  • Helping them to perform day-to-day activities and providing them with the resources needed to have as much independence as possible
  • Filing reports annually to the court regarding the guardianship status

While the guardian is responsible for most of the decisions that will affect a person’s life, they should always do their best to seek the input of the individual they have guardianship over, ensuring that their wishes are carried out as well as can be. The guardian should also make sure that their actions align with what was originally authorized by the court. Some guardians may be granted broad authority, while others may be more specified. There are some cases where the guardianship of finances and medical decisions may be split between two people, and in these situations, it is important that the guardian does not overstep these boundaries. 

Who Can Be Named a Permanent Guardian?

Almost anyone can seek out permanent guardianship as long as they are properly suited to fulfill that role. The court will always side with who is best qualified to meet the individual’s specific needs. If the person has already outlined who should be responsible in the event they are capacitated, the court will usually appoint that person as long as they have the capability to perform that job. In some states, the courts may give more preference to immediate family members such as the spouse, children, or other members of the family close to the person since they are most likely to be familiar with the individual’s current abilities as well as their wishes for how they would like things handled. If neither a friend nor a relative is willing or able to be a guardian, a public or professional guardian may be appointed instead. 

Will a Guardian Receive Compensation?

As a guardian appointed by the court, you will be able to receive some type of compensation for services that are provided. When it is a family member or close friend that is appointed, they will typically not charge the individual fo compensation, though they can. If a public or private guardian is appointed then the compensation will be paid from the individual’s estate. To ensure that the compensation is fair and reasonable, it will first need to be approved by the court. The court may ask the guardian to provide a careful accounting of all of the services they provide, including the tasks performed, how much time they took, and any out-of-pocket expenses that were incurred.

Do You Need a Lawyer to File for Permanent Guardianship?

While you can petition the court on your own to obtain permanent guardianship of an individual, the process can be mentally and financially draining. The paperwork and process can be complicated for those not familiar with the legal world, and there can also be certain situations that come up that you will need to address. Because of this, you can make the process significantly easier, less stressful, and more likely to come to your desired outcome, if you obtain an attorney experienced in the process of obtaining legal guardianship. 

Do you have a loved one that needs a guardian, and you are ready to step up and fulfill that role? The experienced team at Lilac City Law can help provide information and assistance.

Contact us today to schedule your consultation. 

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Which is Better? Power of Attorney or Guardianship?

Which is Better? Power of Attorney or Guardianship?

When you have a loved one that needs assistance making major life decisions, whether they are financial or medical, you may find yourself wondering whether or not it is better to obtain a power of attorney or guardianship to help assist them with these matters. Which one will provide you with the best chance to take care of their needs? To make the decisions, you will first need to understand what each one is and how they differ.

Power of Attorney

A POA, or power of attorney is a document that will give a person the power to act on the behalf of another individual. Power of attorney documents can differ greatly, with some providing the agent of the POA with broad legal authority over their life and others, creating the authority to make limited legal decisions, often related to medical care, finance, property, or both. This type of authority is often used in situations where someone becomes ill, disabled, or incapacitated and cannot make decisions on their own behalf. In some situations, a power of attorney can be used when an individual cannot be present for a major financial transaction, such as purchasing a car. 

A power of attorney can is designated by the individual who needs assistance and can end for any number of reasons. The individual who a power of attorney is for can revoke it at any time, or the court can render it invalid. There are also life events that can dissolve a power of attorney, such as the event of a divorce when the spouse was the agent, or in the event the individual passes away. The dissolution of a power of attorney can differ depending on the type of POA obtained as well. In a conventional power of attorney, the document will become invalid once the individual is declared to be incapacitated. If a durable power of attorney has been obtained, then a power of attorney can continue even after incapacitation. 

Power of attorney documents should be considered when planning long-term care or for individuals who may be disabled physically or mentally. When choosing a power of attorney, you will need to determine whether a general power of attorney will be needed or a limited one. Which one you choose can depend on the capacity of the individual the power of attorney is being obtained for. A general power of attorney will allow an individual to act as an agent for all matters allowed by the state and can include selling property, handling bank accounts, signing checks, and making medical decisions. A limited power of attorney will be desirable when an agent is needed for specific matters or events, such as handling property or managing a retirement account. Limited power of attorney is typically only granted for a specified period of time. 

Guardianship

Obtaining guardianship, or conservatorship, is a legal process where a person is awarded the decision-making capacity over an individual who is unable to communicate their decision or lacks the capacity to make sound decisions often due to a mental disability. It can also be awarded if a person is considered to be susceptible to undue influence or fraud. When a guardianship is granted, many rights from the individual are removed, such as their right to manage their finances, medical treatments, and where they choose to live. Because guardianship can significantly limit a person’s rights, it is usually considered a last resort and is not taken by the court system lightly. In order to obtain guardianship, a court will have to strongly feel that the individual cannot make their own decisions, and it is in the best interest of the individual to have someone put in place to make these decisions. While an individual can request a guardian choice before they become incapacitated, the court will have the ultimate decision in who they appoint. They will give weight to an individual’s request as long as that person can perform the guardian function and act in the individual’s best interest. 

How Does a Power of Attorney Differ From Guardianship?

While both a power of attorney and guardianship are designed to provide an agent with the ability to make decisions on your behalf, the primary difference between the two is that you will choose the agent for power of attorney and what actions you want them to take on your behalf, while guardianship is a court-appointed position. The individual receiving guardianship will be able to make all decisions on your behalf, instead of limited ones that may be outlined in a power of attorney. Another difference between the two is the fact that a power of attorney can be dissolved by the individual requesting it, where a guardianship will have to be dissolved by the court. One of the final differences between a POA and a guardianship is that when the court appoints a guardian, they can choose to appoint an independent guardian instead of someone that is related to the individual. 

Determining whether to choose a power of attorney or guardianship will largely have to do with the ability the individual has to make decisions on their behalf. In the event that the individual still has enough of an ability to understand and participate in the decision-making process, they may wish to choose a power of attorney. This will provide them with someone to help them in making decisions but will make them part of the decision-making process. It is also advisable to obtain a durable power of attorney so that the same individual can aid in decisions in the event incapacitation occurs. If an individual has already lost their ability to make confident and safe decisions on their behalf, then a guardianship situation will work best. 

Another important thing to note is that if a durable power of attorney is in effect when someone becomes incapacitated, then a guardianship is not necessary. So if you wish to have a say in who will be appointed your decision making capability in the event you become incapacitated, then having a durable power of attorney in place may be the best course of action. 

Pros and Cons of POAs and Guardianships

There are advantages and disadvantages to both options, and it is important to understand the difference before making any decisions so that it can be ensured that the wants and needs of an individual will be met and in accordance with their wishes. One drawback to a power of attorney is that it will need to be established well before it is needed. Once an individual is deemed to be incapacitated, a durable power of attorney cannot be established. So if a power of attorney has not been established then a guardianship will be needed for decisions to be made on an individual’s behalf. Another possible drawback of utilizing a power of attorney is that it will give the friend or family member who you assign as your agent, significant control over your life.

Choosing a guardianship also comes with some disadvantages as well. The first being that the process involves the courts. The court process can be lengthy, and an agent will not have the power to make decisions on an individual’s behalf until the process is completed. Additionally, the court may decide that the person seeking guardianship is not equipped to act in the individual’s best interest, and someone else may be appointed who was not someone that the individual would originally desire. 

After a guardianship by the court has been established, the court will continue to oversee the process, which can be both a pro and a con. It can be good for the fact that the individual will remain protected at all times, but it can be a con due to the fact that it intrudes into private family matters, With a durable power of attorney their will be no oversight, but an agent can be held in breach of duty, and legal action can be taken if they fail to perform their duties properly. 

Deciding whether to choose a durable power of attorney or guardianship can be a difficult decision, and one that involves weighing the pros and cons of each action. In any event, seeking out knowledgeable legal counsel will help you better understand the process that goes into obtaining each, what responsibilities each require, and which one will be in the best interest of your loved one.

Need help deciding, or are you ready to begin the power of attorney or guardianship paperwork? The professionals at Lilac City Law can help. Contact us today to set an appointment for your consultation. 

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What is the Difference Between Custody and Guardianship?

What is the Difference Between Custody and Guardianship?

Custody and guardianship both allow someone else to care for a minor child. The main difference is how they’re set up. Keep reading to find out more.

What is Custody?

Custody is a family court order that allows someone to care for a minor child. One of the most common uses of custody is in divorce cases where the court will decide if the parents share joint custody, one will have primary custody, or, in rare cases, only one will have custody. A parent may also lose custody in cases of abuse or neglect.

What is Guardianship?

Guardianship comes from the probate court rather than family court. The guardian has similar powers to a parent or another person with custody. Guardianship may be used when both parents pass away or when both parents don’t have the physical or mental capacity to care for their child any longer.

Guardianship can also be used in the case of an adult who due to illness, injury, or disability is unable to care for himself or herself.

What’s the Difference Between Joint and Physical Custody and Guardianship?

Custody arrangements are often divided into physical and legal custody. Physical custody means a parent has the right to spend time with a child such as during visitation periods. Legal custody means a parent has the authority to make decisions over things like healthcare and education. With the trend towards awarding joint custody, most parents share both physical and legal custody, but this may not always be the same.

A guardianship is a legal arrangement, although the guardian often will also take in the child physically. If the guardianship is temporary, such as while a parent is in the hospital or jail, the guardian may be limited to making day-to-day decisions for the child during that time rather than having the same authority for more permanent decisions as a parent or someone with permanent custody would.

How Long Do Custody and Guardianship Arrangements Last?

Custody arrangements usually last until the age of majority. The parents or another interested party may request a modification of custody if there has been a significant change in circumstances.

Guardianships can also be permanent until the age of majority, but they may also be temporary. For example, a parent who is serving overseas or going in for a surgery may appoint a temporary guardian.

Can There Be Both Custody and Guardianship?

In most situations, guardianship is only used when both parents are unable to care for a child. If there is joint custody and something happens to one parent, the other parent will usually take on full custody at least until the other parent recovers. If something happens to both parents or the other parent is temporarily or permanently too far away to take on a greater role, the court may appoint a guardian. If either parent becomes able to take on full custody, the court would usually end the guardianship.

How Do Custody and Guardianship Start?

Custody often starts as one of the decisions a judge makes in a divorce case. The judge has the final say and decides what’s in the best interests of the child. The parents can ask for a certain arrangement, but even if both parents are in complete agreement, the judge may opt for a different course of action.

Custody can also arise out of an abuse or neglect case. Terminating or reducing parental rights is a serious decision, and the court will give anyone who such allegations have been made against the chance to answer the allegations. However, custody cases are not criminal trials, and the judge’s ultimate role is to further the best interests of the child.

Guardianship is also overseen by the court, but the process is slightly different. If a parent who is currently of sound mind and able to care for his or her child needs to appoint a temporary guardian, the court will almost always approve that choice. Parents can also nominate a potential guardian in case they are ever incapacitated. This choice is not automatic, since the court will want to check that the nominated guardian is able to currently serve in the role when needed, but the judge gives the nomination great weight. In cases where someone becomes incapacitated without a nominated guardian, the court will appoint a guardian after listening to the recommendations of family members and other interested parties.

How is Adoption Different Than Guardianship?

Adoption can be similar to permanent guardianship in many practical daily aspects, but there are important legal differences. First, if the parents are still living, adoption permanently ends their parental rights, while guardianship does not. A living parent who appoints a guardian may still have a legal obligation to provide financial support for their child, while an adopted child is the sole responsibility of the adopting parents. Finally, the child doesn’t have any automatic rights to inherit from a guardian but do from adoptive parents the same as a biological child.

Because of the permanence of adoption, it would generally only be part of your estate plan in case you pass away. For situations where there is a chance of recovery, you would want to use a guardianship.

Can Divorced Parents Nominate a Guardian?

Since the courts will default to another parent with custody before a guardian, nominating a guardian when the parents are divorced is more complicated. If both parents can agree to nominate the same guardian, such as a godparent, the court would honor that nomination if something happened to both parents. If each parent nominated a different guardian in their estate planning documents, it would first depend on which parent last had custody. For example, if something happened to the mother, the father took custody, and then something happened to the father, the court would start with the guardian the father nominated. However, both sides of the family would be able to appear in court and ask for a different guardian, and the court would act in the best interests of the child.

What About Grandparents?

In most situations, grandparents don’t have automatic legal rights to care for their grandchildren. This doesn’t mean the children can’t spend a week with grandma and grandpa, but grandparents don’t have the authority to make important legal decisions. If something happened to the parents, schools, doctors, and others couldn’t automatically treat the grandparents as guardians.

Of course, in many families, having the grandparents step in would be best for everyone. Judges understand this and favor awarding custody or guardianship in the right situations. You just need to make the appropriate legal arrangements rather than assuming the grandparents could automatically step in.

How Do You Terminate Custody or Guardianship?

In most custody cases, the more appropriate course of action is to request a modification of custody due to a significant change in circumstances. However, the other parent or another person may petition for termination of custody in cases of abuse or neglect.

Where guardianship is voluntary, such as a parent appointing a temporary guardian while they are away, the parent can terminate the guardianship at virtually any time for virtually any reason. Where the parent is incapacitated, members of the family may petition the court stating why the current guardian isn’t fulfilling his or her duties or why a new guardian would be better for the child.

What Happens if a Guardian Dies?

If a guardian dies or is otherwise unable to fulfill his or her duties, the court will obviously end the guardianship. However, the guardian is not treated as a parent for the purposes of appointing a new guardian. Instead of the guardian nominating a successor guardian, the court will look back to see if the parent nominated an alternate guardian. Otherwise, the judge will again listen to any recommendations from family members in trying to determine the best interests of the child.

Do You Need an Attorney?

It can be a good idea to have an attorney help you to properly establish a guardianship to care for your child should the unthinkable happen to you. To learn more about what you need to do, talk to one of the experienced estate planning attorneys at Lilac City Law. We’re conveniently located in Spokane and serve the surrounding communities.

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What is Permanent Guardianship & Why Does It Matter?

What is Permanent Guardianship & Why Does It Matter?

The importance of selecting a viable guardian early in a child’s life cannot be understated. In the event a parent passes prematurely or becomes unable to deliver the caregiving needs of a minor child, having a responsible and loving family member or trusted friend ready may prove invaluable. Without someone who has the force of law behind them, your child’s future remains uncertain.

A legal guardianship is not an informal agreement between family members and loved ones. While parents can discuss and agree that a sibling or grandparent would do the right thing in the event of a tragedy or setback, the courts hold sway unless you have a binding determined estate plan in place. That’s why it’s imperative to work with an experienced attorney to create legally-binding documents that ensure the health and welfare of your child’s future. That being said, these are elements of permanent guardianship parents would be wise to promptly consider.

Guardians & Parental Rights

People who do not work in the legal system are often surprised to discover that the family court does not necessarily handle guardianships. In most cases, family court judges decide child-rearing issues such as custody, visitation, and support, among others. Generally, probate handles guardianships because they are more closely related to Last Wills and other aspects of estate planning. So, in terms of guardianships coming into conflict with proceedings such as divorce or parental estrangement, cases are often referred to the probate system.

Although the discussion here remains focused on permanent guardianship, there are many instances when parents or the courts designate temporary status. For example, there are times when a child’s parent(s) are unable to provide care, support, or make consistent decisions due to temporary incapacitation. In such instances, they could transfer authority to their designee until they are able to resume parental responsibilities. In such instances, the parent does not necessarily surrender their primary rights.

Opting for a court-approved temporary guardianship should not be taken lightly by parents. When circumstances dictate that a disability, health condition, or addiction crisis renders a parent unsuitable to handle day-to-day caregiving functions, the court may find that it’s in the child’s best interest to terminate parental rights at some juncture. In such instances, guardianships are converted from temporary to permanent even against the parent’s wishes. That’s why it’s crucial to work with an experienced attorney when agreeing to temporary guardianship.

Making A Temporary Guardianship Permanent

Although temporary guardianships are intended to come to a logical end, sometimes circumstances require change. This may be the case when someone takes on the guardianship believing a parent will recovery from their challenge or condition within a reasonable time frame. Tragically, when parents lose their battle with health and wellness matters, permanence and stability tend to be in the child’s best interest. These are common reasons people petition the court for permanent guardianships.

  • The remaining parent passes away due to illness
  • The parent(s) has been incarcerated permanently or beyond the child reaching 18 years old
  • The parent can no longer adequately care for the minor child

When a guardian wishes to change the court-mandated designation to a permanent one, there are procedural steps that must be undertaken. It’s essential to work with an experienced attorney in such matters because the court bureaucracy can be difficult to negotiate, and missteps often prove costly.

Start by scheduling an appointment with an experienced attorney to gain insight about what permanent guardianship entails. Before making this extraordinary commitment, it’s important to understand all the rights and obligations that come with it in order to make an informed decision. If you still wish to proceed, these are legal hurdles that will need to be addressed.

Meet Court Requirements

The court’s responsibility in this process is to always protect the child’s best interests. The desires of well-meaning adults run a distant second. That’s largely why Washington State, and many others, set a stringent standard for permanent guardians. These are items required under Washington State’s Certified Professional Guardianship Program.

  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Have no felony convictions on your record
  • Have no misdemeanor convictions that involve moral deficiencies
  • Be of sound mind and a person the court deems suitable
  • Demonstrate financial stability and a reasonably good credit rating

Although family members may not be petitioning the court under this specific program, its requirements highlight that you will need to make a persuasive case to a judge.

Gain Parent of Current Caregiver’s Consent

In instances where the parent can no longer raise the child or someone else has a temporary arrangement, a family member or interested third-party can petition to have the temporary order transferred to them and enhanced to a permanent one. One of the ways this pathway can be processed more seamlessly is with the current caregiver’s permission. By securing an affidavit to that effect, the court may be more inclined to grant the petition.

Provide Notice To Interest Parties

Once your attorney has completed your petition and filed with the court, all relevant parties must be notified in a timely fashion. This may include living parents, family members, and pertinent people in the child’s life that may also want to take on the guardian role. Make certain that your attorney has a list of all pertinent family members and potentially interested parties. Failing to complete this procedural step could upend the process or result in civil litigation brought by a family member or person with standing.

Your Day In Court

The fundamental question the judge considers when making someone a permanent or temporary guardian for that matter is whether the legal designation serves the child’s best interest. The judge will weigh a wide range of facts in reaching a conclusion. These may include the following.

  • Emotional bonds between the child and potential caregivers
  • Ability to provide necessities such as a safe, stable home, food, and medical care
  • Financial stability of the guardian candidate
  • Educational background and employment history
  • Issues involving previous alcohol or substance abuse
  • Mental and emotional fitness of the prospective guardian

You can anticipate answering pointed questions asked by the judge or any parties who oppose or have an interest in the petition. Securing permanent status can be something of an uphill battle when competing interests come into play.

What Parents Should Consider When Choosing A Permanent Guardian

In many cases, permanent guardianships are established by parents through estate planning documents. Parents who take such proactive measures understand that they are ensuring their child will be in good hands should they die prematurely or be otherwise unable to provide adequate care.

Ranked among the most significant challenges parents face is making an informed decision about whom to nominate. But by taking time to think through the process and weigh your options, you will be able to select the best possible candidate. These are things to consider.  

  • Consider Your Core Values: Although you may be immersed in a loving family, child-rearing remains deeply personal. Parents, siblings, and other loved ones may or may not share your core values. Take an inventory about issues such as religion, political perspectives, education, integrity, and other things that truly matter. Then, see who best mirrors your core values and would make a suitable guardian if necessary.
  • Multiple Guardian Option: While it may be somewhat uncommon, there are times when the designated guardian becomes unable or unwilling to fulfill the duty. That’s why it’s in the parents’ best interest to include an alternative in your estate planning documents.
  • Financial Stability: We live in a world in which financial security matters. A guardian who manages money well may be more likely to sustain a healthy and secure home life for your child. This person may also be asked to manage any assets to support the minor or work cooperatively with your estate’s trustee.
  • Speak To Your Family: Having an open and honest discussion about your desire to enlist a family member or loved one as a potential guardian must be treated with care and compassion. Take the time to explain your reasoning in a way that does not slight or otherwise make people feel less than adequate. You are basing the decision on what you perceive as an upbringing most closely aligned with your wishes. It may be worthwhile that while you respect others’ values and abilities, there are specific reasons for your choice.

Once you have reached an agreement with a guardian candidate, it’s vital to follow through with an attorney and make the designation legally binding.

Work With An Experienced Permanent Guardian Attorney

One of the most proactive measures to ensure that your child will grow up in a safe and healthy environment if something happens to you is designating a guardian in your estate planning documents. Giving the right person the ability to make essential life decisions allows you to provide care and comfort, even in your absence. If you have not yet designated a legal guardian or would like to update an existing plan, contact Lilac City Law today.  

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What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem represents the best interests of a child in court. A guardian ad litem can also represent an adult who is incapacitated or has diminished mental capacity.

What’s the Difference Between a Guardian ad Litem and an Attorney?

A guardian ad litem does not perform the same tasks as an attorney. They may make recommendations to the judge or investigate certain facts at the request of the judge, but they don’t argue on behalf of the person they’re representing in the same way as an attorney. In some cases, the guardian ad litem may represent someone who isn’t a named party in the case, such as a child in a divorce proceeding.

When is a Guardian Ad Litem Used?

A guardian ad litem may be used in several different types of cases.

  • Divorce or custody proceedings to represent any children.
  • Child abuse investigations.
  • Foster care or removal cases.
  • Determining whether an adult has full mental capacity.

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do?

The guardian ad litem works for the interests of a specific person, but their true role is to work for the judge rather than directly for that person. The judge may ask them to find out certain facts, to monitor certain activities, and to present a report in court. Exactly what the judge asks of the guardian ad litem depends on the case.

Does the Guardian Ad Litem Make any Decisions?

The guardian ad litem makes no legally binding decisions. Through their investigation and experience, they may come to a certain conclusion about what they think should happen. However, the judge retains the final authority to overrule them or request additional information in areas the guardian ad litem may not have considered.

What Does Ad Litem Mean?

Ad litem is Latin for “for the purposes of the suit.” The appointed person takes on the role of the guardian but only for the specific purposes being discussed in court and only for as much time as it takes to resolve the court case.

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do for Your Children in Estate Planning?

If something happens to you, a guardian ad litem can play several roles for your children in executing your estate plan. One duty is to monitor the probate process and ensure that your child receives what you intended in a way that benefits him or her. A guardian ad litem can also help your child through any guardianship proceedings including both making sure your stated wishes are honored and helping the court gain an objective view of what’s best in situations you may not have considered.

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do for an Incapacitated Adult?

A guardian ad litem speaks on behalf of an incapacitated adult in any court proceedings necessary to execute his or her estate plan. The guardian ad litem can also serve as a go-between between the court and medical professionals to help the court of a neutral understanding of what doctors are recommending without having to call the doctors to testify in court.

How Does a Guardian Ad Litem Receive Compensation?

Guardian ad litems are paid by the parties receiving the benefit of their services. In a family court case, the parents may split the cost. In an estate administration case, the guardian ad litem may be paid out of the estate. In an incapacitation case, the guardian ad litem may be paid out of the incapacitated person’s assets.

Who Picks the Guardian Ad Litem?

The court appoints a guardian ad litem from a list of qualified individuals. It’s possible to nominate a guardian ad litem, but they need to be court-approved.

What Does it Take to Become a Guardian Ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem must complete a training course sponsored by the court. They also need several years of experience in social work, dealing with children or the elderly, dealing with people with disabilities, or in related fields.

Do You Want to Have a Guardian Ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem can be a useful advocate in certain court proceedings. However, you may be worried about the cost or whether the guardian ad litem would really be able to follow your wishes. The key thing to remember is that guardian ad litems do the most in contested court cases. If you can avoid the need to have a judge making decisions, you can avoid the need for a guardian ad litem. This might be by creating a thorough estate plan that covers every potential scenario so that the judge has a clear understanding of what you want without needing to rely on outside input.

What Can You Do if You Disagree with the Guardian Ad Litem?

If you are the person being represented by the guardian ad litem, you can petition the court to find you mentally fit to speak for yourself. Even if the court finds that you don’t have the capacity to do so, the judge can still give weight to your requests in consideration with any feedback from your healthcare providers.

If the guardian ad litem is representing a child or another family member, the first step is to speak to them directly. They generally want to have as full an understanding of your family picture as possible and may not even be aware of your concerns. If this doesn’t work or you believe that they’re abusing their position,  you can make a motion with the judge overseeing the case to take a certain action or, in extreme circumstances, to remove the guardian ad litem.

What Happens When the Guardian Ad Litem Goes to Court?

The guardian ad litem may create a written report to submit to the judge. Any parties in the court action will generally be given a copy along with time to review it before the judge makes any final decisions. The guardian ad litem also usually makes a verbal report during a court session. The judge may ask questions, and the parties will usually be able to ask questions or speak as well. In more contested situations, this may turn into a more formal cross-examination like any other witness.

Remember, that the guardian ad litem is there to represent the best interests of a child or incapacitated person rather than to win a case. The best approach if you disagree with their findings is often to bring out new facts or things they didn’t consider rather than directly arguing against their recommendation.

Do You Still Need an Attorney if You Have a Guardian ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem is not a replacement for an attorney. The guardian ad litem helps to establish facts that an incapacitated person may not be able to bring up on their own. An attorney focuses on how those facts fit within legal rights and principles. An attorney also helps to figure out the best way to legally achieve the desired outcome and to prepare any necessary documents. Further, an attorney can only act for a competent client — either directly or under the guidance of someone else — so an incapacitated person needs more than just an attorney.

Does A Guardian Ad Litem Replace a Guardian or Conservator?

A guardian ad litem also doesn’t replace a guardian, conservator, estate administrator, or other similar roles. The guardian ad litem may monitor daily activities, but their job isn’t to run them. Their job is to observe and report back to the court. You will need to have someone else to manage the daily affairs or yourself or your children. A guardian or conservator are often also expected to report to the court, but the guardian ad litem provides an additional person to do things like monitoring how the guardian or conservator is managing your finances.

Work with an Attorney

The key to properly using a guardian ad litem and not having any surprises is proactive planning. Whether you’d want or not want to have a guardian ad litem overseeing things, you want that decision to be in your control. You do that by having a thorough estate plan for your family. To learn more, talk to one of the estate planning attorneys at Lilac City Law in Spokane, Washington, today.

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How Hard is it to Terminate Guardianship?

How Hard is it to Terminate Guardianship?

Legal guardianship remains an important protection that allows one compassionate person to care for another. The practice is most commonly ordered by the courts to ensure adult oversight of minors. Although used to a lesser degree between adults, guardians help people navigate important everyday life decisions.

When the court appoints a friend, relative, or professional from an agency to become the guardian of an adult, it’s often the result of diminishing health or incapacitation. For children, these issues can be added to a disheartening list of problems such as abuse, neglect, abandonment, and becoming wayward. Although the reason the court considers someone a ward in need of protection and care, terminating a guardianship can be an uphill battle.

How To Terminate A Guardianship

It’s essential to keep in mind that adult and minor child guardianships can be vastly different. In large part, that’s due to the underlying reason the court deemed someone a ward of the court in the first place.

In both types of guardianship, the basic premise is that the individual cannot conduct reasonable self-care. This may be true of both minors and adults, but most children have parents in place to act in their best interest. When our valued elders, for example, begin to lose the physical and cognitive skills to make salient health, wellness, and financial decisions, oversight may be necessary. Other adults may temporarily fall ill, and the protections are put in place only until they recover.

When children go astray, become incapacitated, or a parent is unable to provide proper care for them, guardianship tends to be a stop-gap measure. Either the situation corrects itself, or the minor eventually becomes an adult and takes on their own decision-making. In either case, the court will need to be formally petitioned to end a guardianship.

How to Terminate an Adult Guardianship

In order to understand how to navigate the stringent legal process of ending a guardianship, it’s essential to consider how you got here. In all likelihood, either a third party petitioned the court and won a case against you to deem you incompetent, or you came to the process voluntarily. This difference has a substantial impact on termination.

Going to the court and asking to be voluntarily deemed a ward came with certain advantages. You probably had input about who would become your guardian during your recovery. And, your wishes about what areas this person would hold legal sway may have been negotiated. Terminating a voluntary guardianship often entails merely proving you have regained competence.

On the other hand, involuntary tracts could mean that you will face increased resistance from the party or parties that petitioned the court in the first place. That may mean overcoming objections as well as having documentation and testimony from experts that you are prepared to resume control over your affairs. These are common steps that are required to terminate a guardianship.  

  • File Legal Papers: A Petition to Terminate Guardianship, and a Citation or a Notice of Hearing, will need to be crafted and filed on your behalf. Supporting documents may be required to gain a hearing. Materials may include a final accounting reportIf your guardian or conservator oversaw your estate while recovering, a final reckoning of all financial records must accompany your petition. Papers may call for letters from you’re your physicians. Your doctors must provide statements that assert you have regained the ability to conduct your own affairs competently.
  • Serve Guardian & Others with Papers: All relevant parties must be formally notified that you have petitioned to terminate the guardianship via certified mail. If this step is not thoroughly completed, a judge will likely not hear your case.
  • Attend a Hearing: The judge will read the pertinent documents and likely ask questions. If others object to the petition, more comprehensive testimony may be required. Once the judge has been satisfied that you meet the legal standard, an Order Terminating Guardianship will be issued.

If the guardianship pertained to end-of-life considerations, the court generally requires a financial accounting before releasing the guardian. The challenges confronting parents or other loved ones trying to terminate a guardianship and regain custody can be significantly different.

How to Terminate Guardianship Over a Minor

In order to restore your parental rights and regain custody of a child, you may be tasked with petitioning the court to terminate a guardianship. Much like when adults are deemed wards of the court, the reason your child has a guardian in place will likely impact how difficult you can anticipate the process ahead.

For instance, if another family member petitioned the court to have your child made a ward, the underlying claims will likely need to be adequately addressed. If it involved substance abuse, neglect, or a health condition, a proactive filing and subsequent argument at a formal hearing would have to overcome the initial court findings. In other words, you face an uphill battle of basically proving your ability to properly care for yourself and the child. The goal of this rigorous process will involve persuading the court of the following.

  • The adverse situation has been resolved
  • It’s in the child’s best interest to be placed with a parent
  • You can successfully provide for daily health, wellness, and emotional needs of the child
  • You are financially stable or are receiving adequate public assistance
  • You enjoy positive extended family and community relationships

The process of regaining parental rights and terminating a guardianship requires crafting a highly persuasive petition and supplying authoritative supporting documents, as well as possible witness testimony. There are also a variety of legal pathways that can be accessed, depending on how and why you got to this point.

  • When Guardians Object: In cases in which the court-appointed guardian objects to their removal, a full hearing may be required. This brings together the key stakeholders in the process to determine whether to keep court oversight in place or give your child back to you.
  • When Guardians Agree to Termination: In such cases, parents need only demonstrate that they are competent and able to serve the best interest of their child in a stable and healthy fashion.
  • Terminating for Adoption, Marriage, or Service: The act of adoption effectively ends ward of the court status. The same holds true in marriage, and minors who enlist in the military enjoy grounds to terminate the guardianship over them.
  • When a Child Turns 18 Years Old: When a minor reaches the age of majority, they are no longer a ward of the court and the guardianship times out. The court-appointed person would be wise to file a notice with the court.
  • Guardianships Over Estates at 18 Years Old: Control over assets does not generally end when a minor turns 18 years old. The court will need to be petitioned, and a final accounting of the finances must be filed. The court must issue a directive releasing the assets before the previous ward can access them.
  • Cases of Emancipated Minors: When the court agrees to emancipate a minor, they no longer are deemed a ward of the court. Part of the hearing should include the automatic termination of the guardianship.

In some cases, the court-appointed person finds that they can no longer serve in that capacity. This could be due to illness, relocation, or they believe terminating the guardianship is in the minor’s best interest. The court enjoys great latitude in such cases and may decide to resolve the matter in a number of ways. The court may agree that the minor no longer needs or benefits from oversight. In many instances, the court appoints a new guardian to take over the responsibilities.

Should You Speak with an Attorney to Terminate a Guardianship?

The short answer is: Yes. That’s because the court system involves complex filings, documentation, and bureaucracies that are difficult for everyday people to navigate. A simple missing document or misstep can upend your efforts to terminate a guardianship. It’s in your best interest to have a determined and compassionate attorney who works in the family courts on a daily basis. That experience allows us to put forward the best case possible on your behalf and get the results you deserve. If you are considering terminating a guardianship, call Lilac City Law and schedule a consultation today.

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What is a Ward of the Court?

What is a Ward of the Court?

People essentially become wards of the court because they are unable to take care of themselves at some level and require certain legal protections.

This legal designation is also commonly called being a “ward of the state” and may apply to minors as well as adults. It’s also important to understand that a ward is not necessarily someone who has no family or support system within the community. Rather, they may require enhanced protections beyond what a legal guardian or family can provide. Other salient issues involve otherwise responsible legal guardians not wanting to bear the sometimes onerous financial burden associated with minor children or adults who unable to maintain self-care.

To say that the process and issues involving wards of the court are complicated would be something of an understatement. In an effort to provide loved ones with a working understanding of what it means to be a ward of the court, we hope the following overview proves useful.

How Does One Become an Adult Ward of the Court?

As we are acutely aware, not all adults have the ability to care for themselves adequately. Whether that stems from a disability, age, or illness, the courts can provide enhanced protections to ensure ongoing treatment, care, and financial oversight, among other items.

An adult ward of the court may have no remaining family members to step up as a legal guardian. Others may indeed have loved ones that are willing to act as their guardian but are not necessarily in a position to shoulder burdens such as financial support as well as caregiving. Still, other wards have court-appointed guardians connected with government agencies. These professional organizations may include the following.

  • Social Services
  • Human Services
  • Mental Health Agencies
  • Health Departments
  • Departments for Aging Adults

In order to become an adult ward of the court, that person must undergo a review process that may include assessments by medical and psychiatric professionals who support a claim the person is not competent to successfully maintain minimum health, safety, and financial standards. In the vast majority of cases, the courts will hold a hearing and secure written and oral testimony from experts, friends, and family members, among others. If deemed incompetent, the individual may enjoy the legal protections afforded by the court.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the courts do not necessarily impose guardianships. People who recognize they are seeing the signs of diminished capacity to maintain their health, well-being, and estates, can work with an attorney to voluntarily petition the court. In these instances, the potential ward of the court can have substantial input about the parameters of the guardianship and who the court appoints to that station.

In other cases, a friend or family member can petition the court on someone’s behalf, even in cases of involuntary guardianships. These cases can be emotionally taxing for family members, particularly when your loved one does not recognize their failing state. In these involuntary cases, the ward generally has little or no input about issues such as oversight of their well-being or the designated guardian. The court imposes what it believes is in the best interest of the ward.

What Does an Adult Guardian Do?

A court-appointed guardian is often tasked with overseeing healthcare and financial planning decisions. It’s not uncommon for the guardian to work closely with the ward through the process and move forward with the person’s full consent. These are common items a guardian works with the ward.  

  • Place of Residency
  • Mental Health Treatments
  • Physical Health Treatments
  • Bill Payments
  • Personal Affairs
  • Estate Planning
  • Last Will & Testament

If the ward has significant financial resources, the court may also appoint a conservator with some expertise to manage their estate. The guardian, on the other hand, advocates on behalf of the ward’s best interest in all other matters and generally submits periodic reports to the court.

How Long Can an Adult Remain a Ward of the Court?

Once a person has been deemed a ward of the court, that legal designation is usually only removed in the event they are no longer hindered. In some instances, the court may dismiss the guardianship because it’s in the person’s best interest. Although the latter tends not to be the norm, people who have recovered from a physical or mental health condition may see the ward designation lifted, and the guardianship discontinued. In the overwhelming majority of cases, wards of the court remain so until they pass away.

When Does A Minor Child Become A Ward of the Court?

When children are deemed wards of the court, the circumstances and prevailing issues can be quite different. For example, when the court appoints a legal guardian, it is more often not the case that they become financially responsible for support. In these cases, guardians are also not generally liable for other expenses associated with the child. However, when children become wards of the court, parental rights are usually terminated.

This is an important distinction for minors and parents alike to understand. That’s because there are instances when the court may assume authority over the child even though the minor remains in the custody of a parent. In this scenario, the court has asserted some degree of authority but has not yet gone as far as to remove parental oversight. In such cases, minors are not necessarily a legal ward of the court.

That same reasoning holds true in cases when minors work with an attorney to successfully petition the court to be declared emancipated. Although such minors are no longer under the legal control or protection of a parent or guardian, they are not automatically under the court’s protection either. Therefore, they do not meet the legal standard of a ward of the court.

Another compelling situation is when minors commit crimes and are incarcerated. The mere fact that the state has assumed control and placed the child in a correctional facility does not necessarily make them a ward of the court. As long as a parent or appointed guardian is in place, the minor may not be considered a ward.  

What Triggers A Minor Becoming a Ward of the Court?

Like the adult process, there are a number of ways that a child can go from being the responsibility of a parent to a ward of the court. Sadly, ranked among the more prevalent pathways, the court places children under its protection when they are neglected, abused, or otherwise mistreated. We hear and read about many extreme cases in the media of children being subjected to squalor, malnutrition, and other horrors. The legal protections of the court are often inserted until the children can be treated, and a suitable living environment can be secured.

In other cases, the court may proactively take control over wayward youths. It’s not unusual for a minor with a growing criminal record, history of drug and alcohol abuse, or mental health issues to be removed from a parent’s custody. Wards may be placed in institutional settings that include rehabilitative programs. The court’s goal in cases of wayward youths is to redirect negative behaviors and integrate them as productive members of the community.

There are also cases when parents are physically or mentally unable to provide the stable homelife a child requires. Whether that evolves from diminished physical health or an emerging mental condition, parents have the option to work with an attorney and petition the court to place their child under its protection. Parents are often required to sign over custody in voluntary petitions. In these types of cases, parents can have significant input regarding placement and the future well-being of their child. It’s also not unusual for parents to regain their capacity to care for a child and ask the court to reinstate their rights.

Protect Your Loved One’s Rights & Interests

If you or a loved one is facing the possibility of becoming a ward of the court, or you fear for how guardianship will transpire in a known or unknown future scenario, it’s imperative that you engage the best legal counsel possible. The legal hurdles, hearings, and documentation required to negotiate the process tend to be highly complicated. And, missteps can cause unexpected setbacks and a less than desirable result. Whether you are considering an adult wardship, or want to protect a minor child’s future, Lilac City Law has the experience and compassion to diligently guide you through the process and get the outcome you deserve.

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What is a Plenary Guardian?

What is a Plenary Guardian?

If you have a teenage child or young adult child with an intellectual or developmental disability (IDD), you may have concerns over how they will navigate the world as an adult. You may be wondering whether you need to assume legal guardianship to protect them from potentially costly mistakes. It is only sensible to think about whether or not they may need your help in making important life decisions moving forward. That is why it is important to learn more about different types of guardianship. The more you learn about the legal avenues that are available to you, the better you will be able to decide what is best for your child.

What is Plenary Guardianship?

Plenary guardianship is the official legal term for full guardianship. It is the most complete form of guardianship that can be granted by the court — where you take full decision-making responsibility for your child.

Deciding to seek full guardianship for your child is a major choice that should not be made lightly, as it will remove all of your adult child’s legal rights to make major life decisions. The last thing you want to do is lower their quality of life, so you will want to discuss the possibility of plenary guardianship with multiple key figures in your child’s life to ensure you are completely certain about your decision. These figures may include your special needs lawyer, the child’s other parent, your child’s primary physician and other medical experts. Not only will these experts help you decide what your child really needs, they can also help you present a complete argument to the court if you find you need to seek plenary guardianship.

If you do get plenary guardianship from the court, you will take over responsibility for some or all of your child’s major life decisions, including:

  • Voting
  • Driving
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Medical decisions
  • Financial decisions
  • Entering into contracts
  • Living arrangements
  • Creating a will

There are definitely individuals with such a severe IDD that they require plenary guardianship. For those individuals, plenary guardianship is a necessity for their safety and those around them. But it is also important to understand that plenary guardianship is often not necessary. Just because someone has an IDD, even a fairly significant IDD, does not mean that they should have all of their rights taken away and put in the hands of someone else — even someone as well-intentioned as their parent.

Why Do Parents Seek Plenary Guardianship?

The primary reason for plenary guardianship is to ensure the safety of the individual under guardianship. An IDD can be so severe that it can make an individual vulnerable to dangerous decisions and/or being taken advantage of by others. You want your child to live a relatively safe, comfortable, secure life. If you are certain that having full rights to get married, divorced, drive, enter into contracts, make medical decisions, make financial decisions, and so on, is likely to put your adult child in significant danger, it may be necessary to take away those rights.

How to Decide if Plenary Guardianship is Necessary

Seeking plenary guardianship for your adult child with an IDD or soon to be adult child is one of the biggest decisions you will ever make. You love your child and want what is best for them — and that may mean taking over some or all of their decision-making through full guardianship. But how do you decide if plenary guardianship is the right choice?

There is no simple, easy answer to this question. But there are some questions you can ask yourself and other experts like your special needs attorney that can help guide your decision, including:

  • Is your child completely incapable of making health care or financial decisions? Decisions like whether to get a life-saving surgery, take birth control and pay rent are extremely important choices that adults must make for their own well-being. If you do not believe your child is capable of making such decisions, you may feel compelled to take over such decisions to ensure their safety. 
  • Can your child make some major decisions with reasonable — or even extreme — assistance or accommodation? Many young adults with an IDD are capable of making some major decisions, particularly if they have some help from others that they can trust. It is far better to err on the side of caution when it comes to taking away your child’s rights to make their own decisions both for their happiness and your own. 
  • Is there a less extreme legal option you can utilize other than plenary guardianship? Plenary guardianship is considered the most drastic choice because it fully removes the rights of your child and puts them in your hands. There may be other options, like limited guardianship or power of attorney, that would allow you to provide adequate protection without the need to take away all your child’s rights. 

Alternatives to Plenary Guardianship: Limited Guardianship

If after careful consideration you determine that your child is unable to make some decisions safely due to their IDD, but not all, you could seek a limited guardianship. As the name implies, a limited guardianship is granted to address specific limitations the individual with an IDD may face. For example, if you know that your child is not capable of making sound financial decisions but is capable of making other major decisions like driving or choosing a life partner, you could seek a limited guardianship for financial matters. 

Alternatives to Plenary Guardianship: Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is even less restrictive than a limited guardianship. It grants you the power to make specific decisions on behalf of your child, such as health care decisions or financial decisions. You could get a power of attorney to help in the areas where you know you are needed without having to go through the extensive process of getting guardianship. 

Remember — The Court Will Err on the Side of Caution

As you are making your decision about what type of guardianship or legal option you want for your child with an IDD, it is important to keep the priorities of the court in mind. Generally, courts are averse to taking away any more of an individual’s rights than they have to. You are going to have a much harder time convincing a court to give you plenary guardianship than you would limited guardianship. Power of attorney will be easier to get than limited guardianship. 

Of course, if you are absolutely certain that plenary guardianship is necessary and you and your attorney can provide sufficient evidence and a compelling argument, you will likely be granted full guardianship. 

Trust Your Judgment and Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

You know your child better than anyone — which means you are the best-equipped to determine what kind of help they need as they come into adulthood. However, since the question of plenary guardianship is so significant, you should not be afraid to seek help as you make your choice. Your family physician, any specialists your child sees, and your special needs attorney have likely all encountered similar situations with other patients/clients. They can give you some insight that will probably make you feel better about your final decision. They can tell you about examples they have seen of full guardianship, experiences of adults with IDDs, information about the legal hurdles you may face and more. 

In the end, it will be up to you whether you choose to seek plenary guardianship, limited guardianship, power of attorney or some other avenue to protect your adult child with an IDD. But you will likely feel better having consulted with experts before you finalize your decision. 

Getting Help with Guardianship Decisions

For parents of children of with an IDD, the approach of their 18th birthday can bring mixed feelings. On the one hand, you know it is a joyous occasion that your child has reached one of the great milestones of life — as with every new 18-year-old, they gain the right to vote, to marry, to become part of the armed forces and to move out on their own. But the reality of their IDD could give you serious hesitation about leaving them to their own devices. You know better than anyone how capable — or incapable — they may be to make significant life decisions. You want to protect them, and you may need to take legal action to do so.

At Lilac City Law, we understand how difficult it can be to decide questions of guardianship for an adult child with an IDD. We want you to know that you do not have to go through this process alone. We are committed to helping our clients find the best available option for their children and their own wellbeing. We can help you decide if full guardianship is the right choice for your child and we can help you seek guardianship from the court.

If you have questions about plenary guardianship and your other options for protecting your adult child with an IDD, please reach out to us using the contact form below or just give us a call. It is our mission to help you protect your family, and we are ready to assist in whatever way we can. 

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12 Months of Estate Planning: A Plan to Get Your Estate Plan Set up in 2020

12 Months of Estate Planning: A Plan to Get Your Estate Plan Set up in 2020

Estate planning can be one of the most important things you do for your family’s future, but it can also be overwhelming. Between heavy subjects you don’t want to think about, the need to do a lot of paperwork, and everything else going on in your life, it can be too easy to keep putting off your estate plan until later. The problem is you never know when you will need it. Get started before it’s too late by doing just a little bit at a time.

January: Determine Your Goals

Who do you need to take care of? Do you have a spouse that relies on your income? Children that still need an education? Grandchildren that you want to give a head start in life? Charities or other important causes that you wish to support?

Your estate plan isn’t a chore you have to check off to be a responsible adult. It’s something you want to do to achieve your goals. There are many types of estate planning tools available that work best in different situations. To pick the right tools, you need to begin with a plan for what you want to do — just like drawing up the blueprints for a house.

February: Take Inventory

After you know who you want to support, you need to know how you can. What assets do you have? Your home? Cash savings? Investments? A business? Family heirlooms?

When you divide your estate, you may wish to provide some loved ones with financial support and others emotional support in the form of specific items that will mean more to them. It’s also important to understand that if you have any debts, your creditors will take precedence over your heirs, so you need to account for those as well.

March: Create a Will

Wills are the most common estate planning tool because they are the simplest way to ensure that each of your loved ones is cared for in the way that you’ve chosen. You can create a will on your own, but there are some legal technicalities that could leave your will open to challenges or having some of your wishes not honored. An estate planning attorney can help you avoid those complexities. Even if you plan to use other estate planning tools, having a will is still a good catchall for things that may not otherwise be covered.

April: Name Beneficiaries

When you name beneficiaries on your bank accounts and investment accounts, those accounts automatically go to your chosen beneficiaries upon your death. This allows those beneficiaries to receive financial support without having to wait for your will to go through probate.

The main benefit to taking this step is so that any family members who need immediate financial support can receive it. For example, if they relied on your income to cover their living expenses, they may not have enough money to buy groceries or to make rent or mortgage payments on your home that they continue to live in.

May: Consider a Trust

A trust is another way to keep assets out of probate and transfer them directly to family members. Again, the goal is to skip the weeks or months of delays it takes to execute your will in probate.

A trust can also be used to ensure that the funds you leave go towards your intended purpose. You may leave a trust for your spouse’s living expenses or your children’s schooling. You may also restrict your children’s or grandchildren’s access to their inheritance until they are older and wiser and will hopefully put it to good use.

June: Plan for Your Healthcare

In addition to planning for what happens after you’re gone, you also need to have plans for what happens if you can’t make decisions for yourself while you’re hospitalized for a serious accident or illness. Even in close families, family members may disagree about what you want, and doctors may not be able to legally follow their instructions.

To ensure your wishes are honored, consider a living will, advanced healthcare directive, or medical power of attorney. These documents allow you to designate a trusted loved one to make decisions on your behalf with full authority. You can also include any specific treatments or end-of-life options that you want your agent to request on your behalf.

July: Designate a Financial Power of Attorney

Like the person you select to make your healthcare decisions, your financial power of attorney will step in if you’re unable to manage your finances. A full durable financial power of attorney gives your agent the ability to manage your bills and assets if you’re ever temporarily or permanently incapacitated.

You can also use a financial power of attorney when you’re still able to care for yourself to some degree but need extra help with certain tasks. For example, you might sign a limited scope power of attorney allowing a loved one to manage your checking account and pay your bills.

August: Look Into Life Insurance

Life insurance is another tool you can use to provide for your family financially when you’re unable to. Many working people opt to buy a policy large enough to replace their expected future income to protect their spouse’s and children’s lifestyles that were planned around that income. You can also use life insurance to guard against things like medical debts from reducing what you can leave to your family.

As with your other assets, you will need to name one or more beneficiaries in your life insurance policy or provide for the cash value of the policy when you write your will.

September: Plan for Estate Taxes

Estate taxes generally only affect families with multi-million dollar net worths, but you still need to be aware of them. Estate taxes can be particularly devastating when your net worth is mostly in real estate, a business, or other non-liquid assets. This type of situation often forces a family to sell a treasured home or multi-generational business to pay the tax bill. By planning how you structure your estate ahead of time, you can avoid taxes or at least make sure your family will have the ability to pay them.

October: Protect Your Business

In one sense, a business is like any other asset. You can leave it in your will to a loved one, or it can be part of your general estate to be divided up between your heirs.

However, businesses also have to be maintained if they are to continue to provide for your family. The death of an owner or key employee can be highly disruptive to the business and possibly even put it out of business. You should create a succession plan that provides for continuity of operations no matter what happens and that also gradually prepares your loved ones to follow in your footsteps if that’s your goal.

November: Organize Everything

Your estate plan is no good if no one knows about it to put it into action. Keep all of your important documents together in a fireproof safe that your family knows the location of. You may also wish to leave copies with your attorney or in a bank safe deposit box. Again, tell your family.

When you have a medical power of attorney or financial power of attorney, give copies to your doctors or banks in advance. Don’t forget to give them updated documents if you change or cancel your existing plans.

December: Review Everything Each Year

When you stop to reflect on another year gone by, think about how the changes during the year will affect your family’s future. New children may be born, others may grow up and no longer need as much help, and you may have new wealth to consider. While you don’t need to redo your estate plan every year, you should update the relevant portions of it after major life changes so that it continues to meet your goals for your family.

Estate Planning with Lilac City Law

Lilac City provides a full range of estate planning services and can help you develop a comprehensive plan for you and your family. We can help you put it together over the next year or help you get it done even faster. To learn more, contact us now to schedule a consultation.

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