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Guardianships FAQ

Posted by attorney Mary Anne Vance

What is a Guardianship?

A Guardianship is a Court approved arrangement that is useful when a person cannot manage their own financial or personal affairs. The Court sees Guardianship as a last resort and favors the use of a Durable Power of Attorney or other less restrictive alternatives to Guardianship when appropriate.

What is the difference between a Guardianship and a Conservatorship?

Washington State does not have Conservatorships. A Conservator appointed in another state often has similar powers in that state to a Guardian in Washington State.

What is the difference between a Guardian of the Person and a Guardian of the Estate?

A Guardian of the Person is responsible for decisions relating to an incapacitated person's health care and other personal matters. A Guardian of the Estate is responsible for decisions relating to managing an incapacitated person's financial affairs, such as paying their bills. Often, the Guardian of the Person and the Guardian of the Estate are the same person, but they can be different people.

What type of person needs a Guardian?

Guardianships are for people who are incapacitated and unable to take care of their personal and/or financial affairs. Guardianships are also for children under the age of 18 years. Just because your grandmother sometimes forgets where she left her keys doesn't mean she needs a Guardian. Guardianship is a last resort; other, less restrictive methods should be considered first.

Why can't someone with dementia sign a Power of Attorney instead of getting a Guardian?

In order to give your Power of Attorney to someone, you must be competent. If someone is already affected by mental illness, dementia, or some other disorder that affects their mental capacity, they may not be competent to sign a Power of Attorney. In these cases, Guardianships are the only alternative unless the person signed a valid Power of Attorney before they became incapacitated.

What if someone needs a Guardian but doesn't want one?

The person who might need a Guardian has the right to object to having a Guardian if they do not want one. They also have the right to an independent attorney of their choice and an independent doctor's examination if they want. They can ask for a trial to be held to determine if they really need a Guardian. The Court considers all the evidence on both sides before appointing a Guardian.

Can I become a Guardian?

Any interested person can ask the Court to establish a Guardianship for another person who they think is incapacitated. The requirements for serving as a Guardian are established by Washington State statute. The Court may appoint any person meeting those requirements to serve the needs of the incapacitated person.

What is a Guardian ad Litem and what do they do?

When someone asks the Court to appoint a Guardian for an incapacitated person, the Court will appoint a Guardian ad Litem to investigate the situation. The Guardian ad Litem is required to meet with the alleged incapacitated person ("AIP"), talk with the person who filed the papers with the Court, obtain a medical report for the AIP, and then report back to the Court within 45 days with a recommendation. The recommendation will say (1) whether the person is incapacitated and needs a Guardian, and (2) if they do need a Guardian, who should be the Guardian.

Is a Professional Guardianship service required?

No. Although there are many good Professional Guardianship services available, any eligible person may ask the Court to be appointed as Guardian. Professional Guardianship services have expertise and can provide a great benefit to the incapacitated person. Being a Guardian can sometimes be a full-time job, and in some cases a Professional Guardian is best.

How long will it take to get a Guardian?

The initial Guardianship process usually takes about 60 days.

How much will it cost to start a Guardianship?

Starting a Guardianship is an involved process and because each case is different, there is no set fee. Though the Guardianship process costs money, establishing a Guardianship preserves the incapacitated person's money.

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