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When is the right time to seek guardianship for a parent?

As your parents age, you may find yourself taking over more and more responsibilities. It may start with checking in with your parents more frequently or taking over yard work. However, as your parents age, you might begin to wonder if a parent may need more substantial help.

Maybe your mom had no food in her kitchen when you last visited. Perhaps the power was recently cut off at your dad’s house. If you noticed something potentially serious, it might be worth considering if your parent needs a guardian.

How can I tell if guardianship is necessary?

Guardianship is a legal relationship between an incapacitated person and a person appointed by a court to make decisions and provide care for him or her. The process of seeking guardianship can be expensive and time-consuming, and it involves taking away many of the incapacitated person’s rights.

To be sure guardianship is necessary, ask yourself:

  • Is Dad or Mom providing for basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, health care, safety and financial affairs?
  • If not, is he or she making that choice freely with an ability to understand the consequences?
  • Could my parent be harmed by this behavior?

To be granted guardianship, you must be able to prove that your parent is unable to provide for basic needs, is unable to make informed decisions about providing for basic needs and will end up harmed (or has already been harmed) because of this incapacity. Keep in mind that the standard of proof in guardianship cases is high, and a judge must be fully satisfied that your parent needs guardianship before such a restrictive measure will be approved.

Are there alternatives to guardianship?

A court will consider guardianship only as a last result because it involves taking away many of your parent’s rights. When possible, less-restrictive alternatives are generally preferred.

Some alternatives to guardianship include:

  • A durable financial power of attorney
  • A durable power of attorney for health care
  • Visiting Nurse Association services
  • Community organization services
  • Meals on Wheels services
  • Help from family and friends

Be aware that legal documents, such as powers of attorney, must be signed by your parent while he or she is still of sound mind. If your parent’s decision-making is already compromised, it may be too late to implement this type of alternative.

Choosing to seek guardianship for a parent can be a difficult decision to make. However, there are circumstances in which seeking guardianship can be necessary to protect a loved one from harm.

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