A person may need a substitute to make his important decisions for him when he becomes disabled due to mental or physical deterioration. If an adult is unable to manage his life, the court may appoint a legal guardian (also called a conservator) on his behalf.
Similarly, the court may appoint a guardian on behalf of a minor child who has no adult to make good decisions for him.
Guardianship in cases of incapacitation
The intention of guardianship is to protect the person (or his property) from exploitation or neglect. The guardian, who is often the adult child of an aging parent, will have control of the disabled person’s financial and personal decisions indefinitely.
With good estate planning, a power of attorney can take effect when a person becomes incapacitated. Thus, someone chosen by the disabled person can act on his behalf, avoiding the need for a conservatory.
Guardianship for minor children
Parents should name a guardian for their children in their will. They should also specify a guardian for any disabled children who will not be able to make their own important decisions once they reach adulthood.
If a child’s parents die without legally naming a conservator, the court will make the best decision it can under the circumstances. Guardianships of minors expire when the child reaches age 18.
The court may also designate a guardian if the parents are unwilling or unable to care for their child.
The appointment of a reliable person to make decisions for those who cannot do it for themselves can be critically important, but it is not a step to take lightly.