Do you suspect that you may need to seek a guardianship for a loved one? There may be an alternative….
If your loved one is becoming unable to take care of his or her own affairs, you may be thinking about seeking a formal guardianship.
If your loved one is still competent to make decisions now (even if you suspect that that may not be the case in the future), you may need to act right away. For instance, a diagnosis of dementia may be received early enough to allow your loved one to be an active part of the discussion and decision-making process. If so, s/he can plan for the future, signing specific documentation that allows you to help manage his/her affairs now and in the future. S/he can even designate a guardian for later on, in the event that it becomes necessary.
There are also ways to use estate planning to help. This is helpful not only in cases of dementia and decreasing capacity, but also in cases where a person is mentally challenged or disabled (whether due to injury, illness, or developmental disabilities). One or more Trusts may be set up. The purpose of the Trust(s) can be to preserve assets, regulate spending, clearly define legal responsibility of the Trustee and engage in responsible tax planning.
A formal guardianship, when needed, is a welcome solution. However, if it there are other ways to accomplish the same goals, they are worth investigating. A formal guardianship includes court administration and court authority over it, which means that the Guardian will be subject to requirements such as filing reports with the court and requesting court approval for spending certain amounts. Finding the best and least cumbersome alternative is encouraged by judges, while keeping the best interests of the person in mind.
If a guardianship looks like it may be a possibility, don’t wait to find out all of the options. Knowledge is power and planning before there is a crisis is key.