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Guardianship refers to a legal relationship in which a person, called the guardian, is appointed to make decisions and take care of another person’s personal and financial affairs, known as the ward. This arrangement is typically established when an individual is unable to make competent decisions for themselves due to age, incapacity, or disability. The purpose is to balance the protection of the individual’s rights and autonomy with their need for support and assistance.

Two Main Types of Guardianship

  1. Guardianship of the Person: This type of guardianship involves decisions related to the ward’s personal well-being, such as healthcare, living arrangements, and education.
  2. Guardianship of the Estate (or Conservatorship): This type of guardianship involves decisions regarding the ward’s financial affairs, including managing assets, paying bills, and making financial investments.

Guardianship is often established through a legal process in which a court determines that an individual is incapacitated and appoints a suitable person as the guardian. The process generally involves filing a petition, a medical evaluation to determine the ward’s capacity and a court hearing.

Guardians have a legal duty to act in the best interests of the ward and are required to report to the court regularly. The court may also monitor the guardian’s actions to ensure the ward’s well-being and protection of their assets. Guardianship may be terminated or modified if the ward’s condition improves or if there is a change in circumstances that warrants a reassessment.

It is a significant legal intervention and is typically considered a last resort when less restrictive alternatives, such as power of attorney or advance healthcare directives, are insufficient to protect the individual. In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on alternatives to guardianship, such as supported decision-making, to empower individuals to make choices about their lives with appropriate support.

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