Guardianship is an important part of the estate planning process. It is the act of giving someone the power to protect and care for you or your children, depending on the circumstances.
In elder law, guardianship refers to appointing someone who will care for you or make decisions for you if you're unable to care for yourself. This is a guardian of the person. There is also a guardian of property who oversees your property if you're incapacitated.
Why would you want to appoint a guardian?
Guardians are helpful parties because they are recognized as individuals a person trusts. They help an elderly or incapacitated person care for him- or herself if he or she is no longer able to do so. This takes the mystery out of who will care for you if you fall ill or become too old to do so yourself. You can appoint anyone you trust to care for you.
Is the elderly party the only person who can appoint a guardian?
No, in reality, there are many people who can have a guardian appointed. The elderly person may petition the court to appoint a guardian. A spouse or partner may do so, just as friends, the local or state government, or a relative may do so. The process is not short, because the court wants to make sure everyone involved understands the risks and benefits. The elderly person does lose some rights to make his or her own decisions, which has to be weighed against the benefits of appointing a guardian.
It's a good idea to look into guardianship while you're still of a younger age. It's always possible to change the guardian you want to appoint in the future, but it's an important thing to consider early on.