When a family member steps in as a senior caregiver, they typically take on a number of responsibilities. However, in addition to providing daily care and support, many familial caregivers eventually have to take their role even further. In some situations, when a senior individual loses their ability to think clearly or make decisions on their own, they need a trusted family member to step in and make these decisions for them. This is known as guardianship or conservatorship, and every day more and more family members find themselves stepping in to take on this role for their senior loved one.
Not every senior needs guardianship. Many seniors are able to make clear decisions until their last day and don't need someone else to step in. However, for seniors suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other conditions that may impact their ability to make decisions as normal, guardianship is the best way to make sure they are continuing to live their life in a safe manner and in the manner they would have wanted. This can prevent any senior with certain cognitive difficulties from making poor decisions about their finances, living situation, health care and more.
Guardianship is a solution for seniors who do not have a power of attorney or an advanced directive. Many families also find that guardians can come in handy if there are certain disagreements within a family about a senior and their life and care choices. Sometimes, the senior will let the family know who they want their guardian to be, if they ever need one, while other families will have to make the best decision about guardianship once their loved one has already found they are unable to make decisions on their own. Either way, the individual taking over the guardian role should be a trusted loved one who is fully capable of making big decisions on behalf of another person.
How to Become a Senior's Legal Guardian
The process to become a legal guardian for a senior may take some time. The courts have rules and regulations in place to ensure that seniors are not being taken advantage of with these guardianships. In order to be granted guardian rights, an individual needs to go to court and have their senior loved one declared incompetent based on official findings from an expert.
Once the court appoints a guardian through this conservatorship process, it transfers all of the responsibilities to that individual. This means that the guardian is in control of making decisions on living arrangements, care, medical decisions and they are in charge of managing the senior's finances. Just because a person is a senior's legal guardian it does not mean that they need to be their caregiver as well. Many times legal guardians will find assisted living communities for their loved ones or make care decisions such as this based on their senior's needs.
Depending on the senior and how the family feels about the conservatorship, the guardian may have all rights and privileges, or they may have limited rights and privileges when it comes to their senior's care. Some courts will appoint an individual to make decisions about health care and living arrangements only, and they may give financial responsibilities to a bank trustee. Other courts may split up conservatorship responsibilities among several family members.
While the senior is stripped of all of their legal rights, this is often the best way to make sure that someone is able to make informed decisions on behalf of the senior in question. Ultimately, it is one of the only ways to ensure that individuals with conditions such as Alzheimer's are getting the best care and attention possible and that all of their personal affairs are being handled correctly.
The Responsibilities of a Senior Guardian
Once an individual has been named as the legal guardian for a senior, they will find they have a number of responsibilities to take care of on behalf of their loved ones. Guardianship is a big responsibility and it can be a full time commitment for any individual. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the guardian to try to make decisions in a manner that align with what they believe the senior would have wanted, if they were still able to make decisions on their own. These responsibilities typically include, but are not limited to the following:
- Determining where the senior will live
- Determining if the senior needs any type of home care or if they need to go to a nursing home or assisted living community
- Helping to maximize the senior's independence to the best of their ability
- Monitoring and taking care of any properties the senior may own
- Signing official documents on behalf of the senior
- Making financial decisions on behalf of the senior, including investment decisions
- Acting as a payee on behalf of the senior
- Being in charge of any end of life decisions, based on their interpretation of the senior's wishes
- Making medical decisions on behalf of the senior
- Monitoring and consenting to any counseling, therapy or educational services the senior may need
- Ensuring the senior is able to maintain the best quality of life possible given their current condition
- Releasing any personal or confidential information, when needed, on behalf of the senior
- Keeping detailed records of all of the expenditures made on behalf of the senior or in regards to their care
Guardians often also need to report to the court annually about their guardianship status so that the courts know someone is still looking after this senior. In most situations, having a senior designate a power of attorney in their will, is the best way to ensure they get the care they need, should they ever need this type of situation. Unfortunately, many seniors do not designate a power of attorney until it is too late. With this in mind, understanding the regulations and proceedings that govern guardianship is one of the best ways to make certain every senior has someone looking out for their best interest, even when they can't make these decisions on their own.