Washington state guardianships aren’t just for managing the care and affairs of minor children. They’re also a valuable tool to help protect adults incapacitated because of physical or mental disease, such as an adult with a profound disability or an older person with dementia. However, it must be used in the appropriate circumstances, as it strips the adult of the ability to make many of their own decisions.
What is an adult guardianship?
Adult guardianships are petitioned through the court to take control of all aspects of a person’s life when that individual cannot adequately make decisions. Similar in some ways to conservatorships, guardianships have the potential for abuse as they are more extensive and powerful than powers of attorney. Because of this impact on someone’s freedom, you must present convincing evidence to the court that the person you are seeking guardianship for cannot manage their affairs and that a less restrictive alternative is unworkable. Such hearings are private and sealed after court proceedings have finished.
Preventing guardian abuse
The Washington state legislature has taken several steps to prevent guardianship abuse, including clarifying the process to appoint an emergency guardianship for 60 days to meet someone’s immediate needs without establishing a permanent one. Washington state has also adopted the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Other Protective Arrangements Act to ensure the rights of alleged incapacitated persons.
Seek viable alternatives
Guardianship is a last-resort solution. You can often avoid this decision by engaging in proactive estate planning with your loved one if diagnosed with dementia or a severe illness. Working with your loved one in this manner before they become fully incapacitated will allow them to provide input on how they want their affairs handled.
Nevertheless, sometimes unexpected events happen, such as when a severe stroke at a young age or a catastrophic accident occurs. In these cases, guardianship may be the only possible answer when someone is in a coma or has suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and thought or expression is impossible.