At some point in your life, you may be faced with the deteriorating mental capacity of a parent or other loved one. This frequently happens during what is best described as a role reversal between an aging parent and adult child. The parent who has been your caregiver, your rock, for as far back as you can remember begins to appear weak and vulnerable – and in need of a caregiver. Because you may find yourself facing the decisions to petition for guardianship over a parent, the Waukegan estate planning attorneys at Hedeker Law, Ltd. explain what it means to be a Guardian for an adult.
What Is Adult Guardianship?
When a person reaches the age of majority (18), the law presumes that he/she is capable of making decisions and effectively holds the individual responsible for the consequences of those decisions. Sometimes, however, an adult is not mentally capable of making sound decisions. Sometimes this is because of disability that was present from the time of birth or early childhood. At the other end of the spectrum, many adults lose their decision-making capacity as a result of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s. When that happens, someone may need to step in and make decisions for the individual to prevent injury or victimization. Adult guardianship is the legal term used to describe a relationship wherein one adult is granted the legal authority to make decisions for another adult who has been adjudicated, by a court, to be disabled. In the State of Illinois, a guardian may be appointed to serve as a substitute decision maker if a person is disabled because of:
- mental deterioration,
- physical incapacity,
- mental illness, or
- developmental disability
What Does a Guardian Do?
A court will only appoint a Guardian when other options are insufficient and will only grant a Guardian the authority necessary to protect the disabled individual and/or the estate. Because not every disabled individual needs help in all areas of his/her life, there are different types of guardianship that might be ordered in Illinois. The type of guardianship ordered will directly impact your duties and responsibilities as a Guardian.
If you are appointed to be a Guardian of the Person this means that the court has determined the ward (disabled individual) is unable to make or communicate responsible decisions regarding his/her personal care. As a result, your duties as a Guardian will involve making decisions such as what medical treatment the ward can receive, where the ward will live, what social services the ward will receive, and other personal decisions. You will not be in charge of the ward’s finances nor assets.
If you are appointed to be a Guardian of the Estate the court has determined that the ward is unable to make or communicate responsible decisions regarding the management of his/her estate or finances. In this role as Guardian, you will be responsible for making decisions about the ward’s funds and assets. You may decide what bills to pay, and what assets to sell and may even have the authority to enter into contracts in the Ward’s name. You will not make personal decisions for the ward.
You can be appointed as both a Guardian of the Person and Guardian of the Estate. In that case, you will have the authority of both types of Guardian. Keep in mind, however, that the court always has the authority to limit your power as Guardian in any way the court deems necessary. The court may, for example, only give you the authority to decide where the ward lives and what social services he/she receives or the court may only give you the authority to pay bills and cash assistance checks sent to the ward. Furthermore, a Guardian always remains under the supervision of the court and must report to the court on a regular basis.
Finally, a court may also appoint you to be a Temporary Guardian if there is an emergency situation requiring a guardian to be appointed before the hearing on the guardianship petition can be completed. In that case, the court typically gives a Guardian only the limited authority to prevent immediate harm from befalling the proposed ward until a full hearing can be held to determine if a permanent guardian is necessary.
Contact Waukegan Estate Planning Attorneys
Please join us for an upcoming FREE estate planning seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about becoming a guardian, contact the experienced Waukegan estate planning attorneys at Hedeker Law, Ltd. by calling (847) 913-5415 to schedule an appointment.