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Protecting Your Loved Ones Through Guardianship

A guardian is a protector, ensuring the safety and welfare of the most vulnerable. In legal terms, a guardian is a person appointed by the court to watch over the interests of children or adults who are unable to provide for their own care.

I handle all facets of legal guardianship, from planning ahead to nominate guardians in a will to providing representation in guardianship proceedings to assert control over a loved one’s physical and financial well-being. My practice, Gregory L. Heidt, Attorney At Law, serves Erie and western Pennsylvania.

Guardianship Of Children

If you are writing a will, you should nominate a guardian for your minor children. In the event of your unexpected demise, that person would take on the care and custody of your child or children. Without a guardianship declaration, your child might end up as a ward of the state or being raised by relatives whom you would not have chosen.

A child with special needs, whether they are developmental disabilities or physical impairments, will likely need a legal guardian after reaching the age of 18. Without plans in place, that child would be emancipated without support structures or legal protection.

I can help you anticipate and plan for their care as a disabled adult, including establishing a special needs trust to preserve their Medicaid and Social Security Supplemental Security Income (SSI) eligibility.

Guardianship Of Vulnerable Adults

A family member may become incapacitated from accident, illness, dementia or the frailties of old age. When this happens, it may be necessary to petition the court to assert guardianship over that person. There are two types of guardianship:

  • Guardianship of the person: This gives the guardian authority to make decisions relating to health care and daily living, including medical treatments, living arrangements, travel, services and end-of-life care.
  • Guardianship of the estate: This makes the guardian a caretaker of the ward’s financial and business affairs, performing tasks such as paying bills, managing accounts and investments, conducting transactions and otherwise acting as their stand-in in legal matters and finances.

The duties of guardianship can be broad or limited to specific powers. The duration can be for a fixed period or open-ended until the person recovers or dies.

Preparing For Guardianship Proceedings

Ideally, the family conflicts and guesswork of an emergency guardianship hearing can be avoided by establishing clear powers of an attorney when creating your estate plan. In the absence of these documents, a court will have to make the decision.

In a guardianship hearing, the individual (or other concerned party) has the right to challenge the need for guardianship or to challenge the nominee. The court hears testimony from the family member or medical experts and determines whether the person is incapacitated.

The court can appoint separate individuals (guardians of the person and of the estate) or appoint one individual to carry out both duties. I have handled both contested and uncontested guardianship proceedings, representing family members as well as wards. On either side, the emphasis should always be the safety and well-being of the ward, preserving their dignity and autonomy as much as possible in an unfortunate situation.

Experienced And Compassionate Legal Counsel

Guardianship can be a touchy subject, whether you are anticipating your own decline or dealing with a crisis in the family. You can count on me for solid legal guidance and sensitivity throughout the process. Please call me at 814-580-9495 or contact me online to arrange a consultation.