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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How Becoming Incapacitated Can Affect Your Family

How Becoming Incapacitated Can Affect Your Family

If you should become incapacitated at some point in your life, you can bet it will be both very scary and stressful for you and your family.

Becoming incapacitated and unable to take care of your affairs, does not mean that you do not have a plan or say in your care and finances though.

There are steps you can take today to ensure that you and your family are both taken care of should you or your spouse ever end up in this situation.

Advance Health Care Directive 

An advance health care directive is also known as a living will.  This document allows you to choose someone you trust to make your health care decisions.  This person might be a family member or a trusted friend.  Having someone designated to make sure your health care decisions are in line with your outlook and desires will take the pressure off of you and your family.

Working through the establishment of a living will/advance health care directive means stating clearly which health care and end of life choices you want.  This document also allows you to say what you want or do not want. For example, you can put in your advance health care directive that you do not want a feeding tube or you can put that you do want a respirator if those are your choices.  These directives eliminate ambiguity for your family when trying to make health care decisions on your behalf.

Setting up a living will/advance healthcare directive today is a great first step in getting your estate in order.

Set Up Your Advance Health Care Directive & Living Will Today

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Durable Power of Attorney for Finance 

A durable power of attorney is similar to the advance health care directive in that you choose a family member or a trusted friend to make decisions for you.  The difference is that this is for your finances.  Because of this, you want to make sure you choose a person you completely trust to make sound financial decisions for you and possibly your family depending on the situation.  The person you choose can be the same person as your advance health care directive but does not have to.

Guardianship Plan

When we say a Guardianship Plan, we are talking about a plan set up to help you to choose someone to take care of your minor children if you are unable to.  In many cases, your spouse will be there to the carry-on with guardianship of your minor children, but in the rare case both of you become incapacitated or only one of you are still living, it will give you the reassurance your children will be taken care of.

Along with choosing who will be your children’s guardian, you can also add a letter voicing your wishes for how your children are raised.  You can say what type of education you want for them, what religion you want them to follow, etc.

You can read more about guardianship plans and kids protection plans, here.

Trust

Having a trust set up for your children will ensure that your wealth is protected from undue taxes or probate while also setting up the transfer of your wealth and estate to those you designate.  You will be able to name a trustee who will help your children access your gift for things like schooling, housing, basic needs, or other things you want to designate.

To help reduce stress, the trustee and the guardian should be two separate people. However, they must be able to work together and make decisions in the best interest of your children.  Without a trust, your financial and property assets could become the rope in a tug of war between kids, relatives, and others.  If you were to become incapacitated, a trust would truly help to keep things straight for everyone!

What if I Become Incapacitated? Who Will Take Care of My Family?

What if I Become Incapacitated? Who Will Take Care of My Family?

Not being able to take care of your family or yourself can be a scary thought. 

Who will make all the important decisions about your finances, health, and important decisions about your family?

There are some estate planning documents that will allow you to name someone to take care of you and your family. 

Let’s take a look at what they are.

Advance Health Care Directive

An advance health care directive allows you to name someone to make health decisions for you when you are incapacitated.  This is often used to decide on whether or not to use feeding tubes, ventilators, or other life-sustaining treatments.  It is also used if you are unable to speak for yourself or sign health documents even at a doctor’s appointment.

The Advance Health Care Directive is also known as a living will or durable power of attorney for healthcare.

If you do not have an advance health care directive, doctors will do everything they can to keep you alive even if that is not what you want.  Be sure to discuss with whomever you choose what you would want them to do.

Durable Power of Attorney for Finance

Similar in intent to an advance health care directive, the durable power of attorney for finance allows you to name someone to take care of your finances if you become incapacitated.  This can be the same person or a different person than you named for your healthcare decisions.

If you do not name someone, then a court will appoint someone to manage your finances.  Your spouse may not have access to your finances unless everything has/had already been set into a joint property.

You want to make sure that whoever you name is someone you trust.  They will handle all of your finances!

If you do not have someone you trust, you can contact a professional to help you setup fiduciary support.

Guardianship Plan

A guardianship plan will lay out what is to happen to your children should you be incapacitated. More than likely if you have a spouse, your spouse will take over the full care of your children. However, if you or your spouse is not in town, not readily available, estranged, or any number of other scenarios where you (or they) cannot immediately take custody of your children, things can go sideways, fast!

Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about Guardianship Plans:

You will need to name a guardian for your children.  You can also include what you want for your children, such as the type of schooling they will receive, if you want them to participate in sports, what values and morals you want them to grow up with, etc.

You want to choose someone you trust to follow your wishes.  They also should be able to financially and emotionally support your children and perhaps even have the same faith or values as you do.

Trust

Setting up a trust for your children will make sure that they will have the financial support they will need.  It can also ensure that your children will not receive their whole inheritance when they turn 18.  Naming someone other than the guardian to be the trustee of the trust can help make sure your children are using their inheritance wisely.  Regardless, you want to make sure that the guardian and the trustee can get along and make decisions together.

There are many factors involved when trying to lay-out how a trust will coordinate with a guardian, powers of attorney, advance directives, wills, and more.  Your best bet is to set up a consultation with a great estate planning attorney.

Talk to an Estate Planning Attorney About Family Protection and Guardianship, Today! 

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Who Can Help Create a Durable Power of Attorney in WA State

Who Can Help Create a Durable Power of Attorney in WA State

Most of us do not like to think about it, but what happens if we are unable to make our own decisions regarding our health and finances? Who is going to make those decisions for us? Are the decisions being made what we would decide if we could? Having a durable power of attorney in Washington state is the best way to ensure decisions are being made the way you would want them to be.

What is a Durable Power of Attorney?

A durable power of attorney (DPOA) is a legally binding document naming an individual or individuals (called an agent) to make health care, financial, and end-of-life decisions for another person. All adults should have one of these in the event there is an accident or sudden death.

A durable power of attorney in Washington state authorizes an agent to:

  • Make health care decisions for you or your minor children
    • If you would like to have life-sustaining procedures withheld or withdrawn in the case of a terminal illness, you may also want to create a living will or advance directive to go along with your Power of Attorney.
  • Buy or sell items for you
  • Manage your business
  • Collect Debts
  • Invest money
  • Cash checks
  • Manage financial matters
  • Sue on behalf of the principal

You do not have to include all above items. You can personalize your durable power of attorney to fit what you need or want in the event someone needs to make decisions for you. Limiting it to just being able to sign on your behalf if you become unable is an example of that. Your agent can not, however, act on your behalf after you die. A durable power of attorney is not a substitute for a will and will terminate upon your death or on a specific date if you so choose.

A durable power of attorney in Washington State must be notarized. After it is notarized, you want to give the original to your agent(s) and keep a copy for yourself.

Who Can Help Create a Durable Power of Attorney in WA state?

The fact that a durable power of attorney is a legal document may make some people shy away from creating one because they think that it will be difficult. You can get help to create a durable power of attorney in Washington State.

Estate Planning Attorney

You can use an estate planning attorney but do not have to by law. Using a legal professional can simplify the process and answer any questions you may have. It is very important that you understand all decisions that you are making and what affects they will have before signing a legal document. An attorney can also make your DPOA individualized. There are forms on the internet that can be printed, but they are very broad.

Loved One or Trusted Friend

Having a family member help you create a durable power of attorney is another option. Make sure you discuss with them what you want so that they can help you fill out the required paperwork accordingly. If the person helping you is going to be your agent, make sure they agree to your wishes before asking them.

Yourself

If you feel comfortable enough, you can fill out your own DPOA without help. Make sure you understand the document and what it is asking. Be sure to choose a trusted person to act as your agent. Most importantly, make sure they are willing to act as your agent.

Having durable power of attorney is an important step in your future. It can be hard emotionally and mentally fill out. Remember, if you do not feel comfortable doing it yourself you can contact an attorney to help you.

More Reading

A Young Family's Guide to a Rock Solid Estate Plan

A Young Family’s Guide to a Rock Solid Estate Plan

Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and Wills: What You Need to Know

Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and Wills: What You Need to Know

The estate planning process encompasses a range of important legal and financial matters.

No one likes to think about death or dying, yet it is important to be prepared in case of an emergency.

Especially, for instance, young parents who have minor children…what will happen to your kids if something happens to you?

The “Durable” Power of Attorney vs. (Non-Durable) Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is a written document authorizing another person to act on your behalf. For instance, it may enable you to appoint another person to act on your behalf in certain financial affairs. For example, signing a check, paying your bills, or even buying or selling real estate, would be valid uses of a power of attorney.

However, should you become disabled or incapacitated your power of attorney will end. Well, it will end unless it explicitly states that it is a durable power of attorney. A durable power of attorney stays in effect even if you become incapacitated or disabled. In estate and family protection planning this becomes a vital document for your trusted family to act on your behalf when you are not able to.

You can read more about how a durable power of attorney is a cornerstone of a rock solid estate plan, here.

Health Care Proxy, Another Kind of Durable Power of Attorney

A healthcare proxy is also known by other titles, including a durable power of attorney for health care, a health care power of attorney, medical power of attorney, or an appointment of a health care agent. By whatever name you have come to know it as the role of a health care proxy is to act on your behalf in case medical decisions become necessary and you are unable to provide consent.

We covered this in actual real-life scenarios in this article. However, for the case of this discussion, the risk of not having a health care proxy is that someone who does not know you, has no idea of your care wishes, values, or end of life preferences, could be making those decisions for you – absent this contingency. Wouldn’t you rather a trusted family member or even friend made these decisions?

10 Basics of a Will

A will is a legal document that states what you would like to happen to your property and assets after your death. Though essential to your estate plan, and probably the most often thought of a piece of an estate plan, a Will is not the sole part of a great plan. Here is an article outlining the benefits and blindspots of a Will.

While you ponder that – here are ten things you SHOULD place in your will:

1. Name an executor
2. Nominate someone to be the guardian of your minor children.
3. Name the beneficiaries and which specific property or assets they should receive
4. Specify alternate beneficiaries in case one of the primary beneficiaries is no longer living
5. Name a person or organization to take whatever is leftover in the estate
6. Specify how personal assets should be divided and whether they should go directly to the beneficiary or be sold for cash value
7. Allocate how business assets are to be divided and if they are to be kept separate from personal assets
8. Outline how your debts, expenses and tax liabilities should be paid
9. Name a caretaker for your pets because the law considers them to be property
10. Declare/discuss funeral plans

Finding the Best Advocate to Bring All This Together

There is a lot of information online about estate planning. In fact, there are even programs you can buy. However, there is no replacement for a plan built custom to your needs & wishes. A plan constructed in consultation with you by an attorney who specializes in estate planning and family protection law! We think we fit that bill and do a pretty good job too, but you don’t have to take our word for it.