We have posted a lot of information on this blog about the responsibilities of a guardian in the life of an incapacitated person. We recognize that if you have been asked to take on this role you probably have a lot of questions.
Under Colorado law, a guardian is a person appointed by a state court to provide care for a person in need of protection (legally termed a ward). For example, if appointed a guardian, you are responsible for decisions related to medical care, an appropriate residence, welfare and safety, work or other meaningful activity, leisure, spiritual activity and similar needs. The court will also provide a guardianship manual that provides detailed information.
Colorado law requires that a guardian allow the ward to act on his or her own behalf as much as possible and participate in making personal decisions as able. The guardian is to consider the ward’s “expressed desires and personal values” in making choices and always act in the protected person’s best interest, exercising “reasonable care, diligence, and prudence.”
This means you need to actively seek input regarding needs and preferences. It could be directly as much as the person can communicate his or her wishes, or by talking to family and caregivers. Regular visits are required to stay on top of how life is going, whether services are adequate and of good quality, to raise awareness of new needs and monitor mood and health.
What does this responsibility really mean at a personal level to someone taking on this role? If you look at the word guardian, its root is the word guard, which speaks to the part of the role that requires looking out for the ward’s safety and welfare — to try to protect him or her from harm since the whole reason for the legal relationship is the vulnerability of the protected person.
In seeing that the protected person’s needs are met, you may need to act as an advocate or an information gatherer. Sometimes you will have to learn about complex systems and laws regarding health care, residential services, vocational services and public benefits. Medical providers must be located and relationships developed to obtain advice about and treatment for sometimes complicated mental health problems or challenging physical conditions.
Seek support, information and advice
Being responsible for a vulnerable person can require finding support and information. First, a consult with an experienced attorney can provide guidance and information initially about whether guardianship or some other legal vehicle is the right choice under the circumstances.
Next, if a guardianship is the route you determine is in the person’s best interest, a petition can be filed with the court. Then, ongoing consultation with the lawyer may be necessary as questions arise about guardianship responsibilities and annual reporting that must be filed with the court. Of course, an attorney can also advise a guardian about any legal problems that arise concerning the ward’s services or care providers.
Other professionals that can provide support and information for guardians include social workers and advocates affiliated with nonprofit organizations, often for persons with particular disabilities like dementia, developmental disabilities, autism and other conditions. Such organizations may also be resources for information about related topics like adaptive technology, health equipment and supplies, therapies, public benefits, social and leisure options, residential and vocational providers and more.
Finally, guardians sometimes benefit from personal support to help them continue to provide quality care oversight, especially if the protected person has severe disabilities or is nearing end of life, or there are difficulties in navigating complex service systems. If there are co-guardians, they can share responsibilities or alternate performing duties. Support groups may be available in the community or affiliated with nonprofits, and more and more, support is available through online groups.