What is Guardianship?
Guardianship is a legal process used when a person is not competent to make decisions on their own. There are many situations in which a court-appointed guardian may be needed. Whether you have an adult child that is unable to make their own decisions, an elderly parent with dementia, or need to make financial or medical decisions on a minor’s behalf, you might need to file for guardianship.
If you live in the state of Arizona and need to take over the care of a relative, you must show a judge that you are the best person to handle the care of your sick, disabled, or minor family member. There is no guardianship application, rather you must petition a court and be granted authority from a judge.
Guardianship vs. Conservatorship
Guardianship and conservatorship often go hand in hand, but the main difference is that conservatorship pertains to making decisions about a person’s assets and finances while guardianship is the authority granted by the courts to make decisions about health and medical care.
Top Reasons to Request Guardianship
In many cases, if you are petitioning for guardianship, it is going to be for a minor. However, that is not always the case. In addition to kids in need, you may want to become the guardian of a parent that is no longer able to care for themselves or make their own major decisions, or over an adult child that needs someone to take the reigns for them.
The top reasons to request guardianship are:
1. To Care for a Disabled Adult
In many cases, a conservatorship is granted to parents of disabled adult children. As a parent, your main concern is that your kids are healthy and taken care of and if they aren’t able to make choices about their healthcare, education, or housing issues, then it may be in their best interest to have someone help them.
Once your child turns 18, you are no longer legally able to make any medical decisions for them. If they require long-term care beyond their 18th birthday, it would be smart to apply for guardianship. Many parents with adult children that have traumatic brain injuries, Down syndrome, autism, and other conditions find it easier to provide adequate care if they are granted guardianship over them into adulthood.
2. To Care for an Aging Adult
The unfortunate truth is that as our loved one’s age, they oftentimes lose the ability to care for themselves. When illnesses such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, strokes, and other conditions prevent a person from competently making their own decisions, it may be time to take the step towards guardianship. You’ll be able to make legal and medical decisions on their behalf.
3. To Care for a Child in an Unsafe Home
While in most cases, the state wants kids to stay with their parents, this is not always the best choice. Just because a parent has custody of their child does not mean they are providing a safe, healthy, or stable living situation. In extreme cases, such as with abuse, excessive drug or alcohol use, or extreme neglect, a judge may grant someone other than the child’s parents guardianship in order to give the child a safer, more stable home.
4. To Care for an Orphaned Child
One of the main reasons guardianship is requested in Arizona is when a relative is requesting to take over guardianship after a child’s parents have died. Some parents name a guardian in their will, but others do not have this outlined, leaving the decision to be made by friends, family, and the courts.
5. To Care for a Child Whose Parents are Unwilling or Unable to Do So
Not all parents are in that position by choice. If a parent is unable or unwilling to care for their children and provide them with the basics – food, water, clothing, and shelter – they may give guardianship to another family member, such as a grandparent. Guardianship does not renounce custody rights, but it does allow someone other than the parents to make health, financial, and education choices until the child turns eighteen.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Guardianship?
Back to our original question, do you need a lawyer for guardianship? The short answer is no, but the process of obtaining guardianship can be complicated.
The first thing you will need to determine when seeking guardianship for another individual is whether or not you are capable of effectively pursuing that guardianship. Initially, you will need to file a petition for limited or general guardianship. Following that, there will be at least one hearing. There must be a hearing in the county in which the incapacitated adult lives, and they must be personally served. In some situations, the court may require a bond by the guardian, but not in every situation.
Beyond that, there is a substantial amount of paperwork involved along with the court hearings. If you have any difficulty with organizing large amounts of paperwork or managing time limits and deadlines, then it may be in your best interest as well as the interest of your case, to work with an experienced professional. However, a professional does not have to be an attorney. In Arizona, you can used a licensed document preparer like Senior Planning to aid in your filing for guardianship. While a document preparer cannot represent you in court or offer legal advice, many guardianship cases do not require representation in the courtroom. A legal document preparer is a much more affordable option.