When Your Parent Needs a GuardianAs our parents get older, they may experience the ordinary physical and mental challenges which come with aging.  However, in more extreme cases a parent’s functioning may be so severely limited as to make it difficult for them to take care of their daily needs.  In this circumstance, adult children may find themselves in the position of having to decide whether it is time to step in and take on some of the responsibilities for their parent’s care.  Here are some considerations when your parent needs a guardian:

Guardianship of the Person

When someone has legal guardianship of the person, it means that he or she can legally make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person or “ward.”  In Michigan, guardians are appointed by the probate court when the court determines that the proposed ward cannot make informed decisions or communicate their desires.  When a person serves as a guardian, they can make decisions such as those related to the ward’s medical care and where they are residing.  The guardian’s medical decision-making authority can also include deciding whether to employ end-of-life measures for the ward.

Determining if Someone Needs a Guardian

In some cases, a person’s need for guardianship will be evident.  For instance, a person rendered unconscious and unresponsive will clearly need someone to make decisions on their behalf.  In other cases, the individual may have dementia or another mental health condition which has become so severe that they can no longer safely care for themselves.  For example, if your parent is no longer bathing, eating, or taking essential medications, these could be signs that their ability to meet their own needs is diminishing.

Requesting Guardianship

To seek guardianship, the requesting party will need to file a petition with the probate court.  The court will appoint an individual to investigate the facts alleged in the petition and provide the court with a report.  Your parent may also be appointed an attorney in the event they disagree with the guardianship, and they may also name someone they prefer to serve in this role.  The court can also order that a court-appointed clinician perform a mental competency evaluation.  If the parties disagree, the court will conduct a hearing and listen to evidence regarding the need for the guardianship.

Alternatives to Guardianship

To avoid the need for guardianship, your parent could prepare a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare (PAD).  A PAD allows an individual to designate someone to make medical decisions for them in the event they become unable to do so.  Another device which your parent could prepare in an advance directive to physicians which specifies the actions which they want health care providers to take if they become incapacitated.  While advance directives are not legally binding in Michigan, they can provide medical personnel and the PAD designee guidance regarding their care.

The decision to seek guardianship of a parent can be difficult to make.  However, depending on your parent’s condition, this action may be necessary for their safety and well-being.  Therefore, to make the right choices for your loved one, it is essential to be informed about guardianship as well as its alternatives. Our office has experienced attorneys who understand and can provide you with the counsel you need to help make decisions regarding your parent’s future.  Please contact us online or by phone if we may be of assistance.

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