What Is A Guardianship?
A guardianship is a court order authorizing one individual to make medical, mental health, housing and any other important decisions needed for a person who is unable to make these decisions for themselves. There are high legal standards in making someone a guardian. Our legal system holds dear a person’s ability to say what sort of medical or mental health treatment they want, or what housing situation they prefer.
Imagine, if someone thought you were not capable of making your own decisions, we would not want the court to easily agree you are not capable. We would want the benefit of the doubt. So, before the court weighs in, they rely on an investigation to help guide them. They court assigns and investigator to gather all available information about the situation, and names an attorney to represent the individual for whom a guardian is proposed.
The person who takes guardianship paperwork to the court is the Petitioner. The person who is the subject of the guardianship is called the Respondent. If the court approves the guardianship, then this person becomes the ward. Once the guardianship paperwork is placed at the court, the judge will name a person to investigate what is going on with the Respondent. This investigator is called the Visitor. Because decision making ability and notice of any court action is so important, the court will name an attorney to work with the Respondent. Part of this attorney’s job is to make sure that the Respondent understands this process and to find out what the Respondent wants to happen.
If the Respondent wants a guardian to make decisions on his/her behalf, and the visitor’s report supports the need for a guardian, then the judge may agree and appoint a guardian.
If the Respondent disagrees with the guardianship proposal, then the attorney for the Respondent will tell the judge this information. When this happens the Petitioner will have to show the judge why the Respondent needs a guardian. The Petitioner will do this by having people come to court and tell the judge about the Respondent. These people may also tell the judge whether they think the Respondent needs a guardian. These people are called Witnesses. They might include the Respondent’s caregivers, doctors, teachers, social workers, employers, school mates, friends, and family.
Once the judge has listened to the Witnesses, and the Petitioner and the Respondent have asked the Witnesses any questions they might have, then the judge will make a decision on the guardianship.
The judge could approve the full guardianship, where medical, mental health and housing decisions are made for the Respondent, or the judge could choose something less. The judge could decide that a conservatorship is needed. A conservator would make financial decisions on behalf of the ward.
If you have any additional questions about guardianship, please contact the office. We’re here to help to help protect you and those you love, and take the mystery out of Alaska law involving guarianships and all facets of estate planning.
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Law Office of Constance A. Aschenbrenner
205 E. Benson Blvd., Suite 121-D Anchorage, Alaska