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How do I get legal guardianship of my loved one?

En español | The process differs by jurisdiction, but generally, you will need an attorney to prepare a petition to the appropriate court for guardianship, also known as conservatorship in some states. Notice of the proceeding must be given to the subject and family members. The court will hold a hearing, review the evidence and may appoint you as guardian. If appointed, you will have important, ongoing duties in making decisions according to the person’s values, managing finances very carefully and regularly reporting to the court.

Before you go down that road, be aware that guardianship can be an expensive, cumbersome court procedure and removes important rights. It is a last resort. Determine what the person can and cannot do to see if a guardianship is necessary.  

Get a good assessment of the person’s capacity by an experienced psychologist, geriatrician or social worker. Talk to an attorney familiar with aging and disability issues. These professionals will help to determine if the person is able to appoint you or someone else to make financial decisions under a power of attorney and health care decisions under an advance directive, instead of seeking a guardianship from the court. If the person only has government benefits, you could be appointed as a representative payee to handle the money.

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