The term “Guardianship” refers to a legal arrangement in which one person (the “guardian”) is responsible for taking care of the affairs of another individual or of a child. In order to become a guardian, it is necessary to petition the Court and to explain the circumstances which necessitate a guardianship. A guardian does not have to be related to the person over whom they are seeking a guardianship, though it is common for relatives and friends to be guardians. In some circumstances, a guardian may even be an attorney or a representative of an organization who is appointed by the Court to serve as the guardian of another person.
Guardianships may apply only to the person (the physical caretaking and well-being of a person), only to the “estate” (the person’s financial affairs), or to both. In general, courts prefer to establish the most limited guardianships possible, because any guardianship arrangement necessarily removes some of the independence or agency of the individual over whom the guardianship is being established. Some individuals may only need a guardian in more limited circumstances, such as to manage their financial affairs, while others may need more day to day assistance from a guardian.
In order to petition the Court for guardianship of an adult in Pennsylvania, it is necessary to show that that adult is incapacitated. Incapacity can take many forms, but it is common for an incapacitated individual to have medical or mental health diagnoses, or an intellectual disability.
While guardianships are only appropriate for incapacitated adults, children may need guardians in a broader set of circumstances. For example, some children who obtain large legal settlements may have guardians of the estate to manage their financial affairs, while children who cannot be cared for by their parents may have guardians of their person who make decisions for them and care for their daily needs. It is not necessary for children to be found “incapacitated” in order for a guardianship to be established, because as minors, it is presumed that children are not yet able to make their own major decisions or to care for themselves.
In the context of children, the rights of a guardian are often similar to the rights of a parent or a person having legal and/or physical custody of the child. Because there can be overlap between a guardian’s duties and those of a parent or person having custody of a child, it may be appropriate in some circumstances to consider pursuing adoption or custody in place of, or alongside of, guardianship. It is possible for parents or others who have custody of a child to also be that child’s guardians, most commonly because it is necessary to manage that child’s financial affairs after the child has received money or property via a legal settlement or an inheritance. When children have medical or mental health needs, or disabilities, it is also common for their parents to pursue guardianship when the children reach 18, so that the parents can continue to make decisions for their children and care for them into adulthood.
If you are interested in discussing guardianship with one of our attorneys in more detail, please contact Tanner Law Offices at 717-731-8114 to schedule a consultation.