You might have been caring for your elderly parent for quite some time, but unless you have legal Guardianship, there will be limits on the decisions you can make for them and how much you can do on their behalf. When your loved one reaches a point where they can no longer take care of themselves, but they don’t agree with what you think needs to be done, it might be time to consider Guardianship.
Signs That Your Loved One Might Need a Legal Guardian
Guardianship is a legal process that grants a designated individual or entity the authority to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person. Full legal Guardianship is not always necessary. Very often, a Power of Attorney document is sufficient to allow you to do what you need to do. However, this document has to be executed before your loved one has become incapacitated.
So, how do you know when it's time to consider Guardianship? Recognizing signs of incapacity is crucial in determining when Guardianship might be necessary. These signs can vary in severity and may include the following.
Frequent and severe memory loss, such as forgetting names, places, and important events, can be an early indicator of incapacity, especially if it affects daily life and safety.
Confusion and Disorientation
An elderly individual may become disoriented, even in familiar surroundings, and struggle to comprehend the date, time, or location.
Inability to Manage Finances
Mishandling finances, unpaid bills, or falling victim to scams are signs of declining financial capacity, putting them at risk of exploitation.
Neglect of Personal Hygiene
If your loved one neglects personal grooming, cleanliness, and regular health check-ups, it could indicate an inability to care for themselves adequately.
Poor Medication Management
Difficulty in taking medication as prescribed, overdosing, or forgetting to take essential medications can lead to health complications.
Mobility issues, frequent falls, and difficulty performing daily tasks like cooking or cleaning can signal diminished physical capacity.
Social withdrawal, neglecting friendships, and avoiding social activities can result in loneliness and depression, impacting their emotional well-being.
Uncharacteristic behavior changes, mood swings, or aggressive or paranoid behavior can be signs of cognitive decline or mental health issues.
Making risky or dangerous decisions, such as giving away money to strangers or getting involved in unsafe situations, is a red flag.
A medical diagnosis of conditions like Alzheimer's disease, dementia, or severe mental illness may necessitate Guardianship when the person's capacity to make decisions is significantly impaired.
Steps Toward Requesting Guardianship
Becoming a loved one’s guardian is a big responsibility and should not be taken lightly. If the court grants Guardianship, the elderly adult loses the right to make decisions for themselves. Often, Guardianship is sought in order to get a loved one into a nursing home or memory care facility against their wishes. If a caregiver has become overwhelmed by caring for an incapacitated adult who refuses to agree to move, they might need to seek legal Guardianship.
As much as possible, it’s helpful to work through the following steps when seeking Guardianship of a loved one:
- Assess capacity. Consult with medical professionals and specialists to assess your loved one's cognitive and physical abilities comprehensively. A formal evaluation can provide clarity.
- Discuss their wishes. If possible, engage in open and honest conversations with your loved one about their wishes for the future, respecting their autonomy as much as possible.
- Explore less restrictive alternatives. Before pursuing Guardianship, explore less restrictive alternatives, such as financial and health care Powers of Attorney, that allow your loved one to maintain some decision-making authority.
- Consult legal counsel. Seek legal advice from the Elder Law and Guardianship attorneys at Ross & Shoalmire. We can guide you through the legal process and help determine if Guardianship is the appropriate course of action.
- Court proceedings. If it's determined that Guardianship is necessary, initiate the legal process through the court system. This typically involves filing a petition, providing evidence of incapacity, and appointing a suitable guardian.
Guardianship is a significant step that should be taken with careful consideration of your elderly loved one's best interests. It is meant to protect them from harm and ensure their needs are met when they are no longer capable of making sound decisions independently. While it can be a difficult decision to make, the goal is to provide the care and support necessary to maintain their quality of life and dignity as they age.