Watching a parent age is often difficult, and it may prove even more so if that parent is experiencing notable cognitive decline. When an older adult living in Washington starts to become unable to effectively manage his or her own affairs, guardianship and conservatorship may be an effective way to help protect that party and keep him or her safe.
Per NAMI Southwest Washington, guardianship and conservatorship is a formal court proceeding which creates a legal relationship between the individual (vulnerable adult, or a “ward”) and the person appointed to look after him or her, or the “guardian” or “conservator.”
How are rights impacted?
Guardianship and conservatorship typically involves placing heavy restrictions on a ward’s life; the process typically results in removal of the Individual’s rights. For this reason, those considering guardianships or conservatorships for a parent or older loved one may want to explore alternatives before taking this big step. Once a guardianship takes shape, it may hinder the ward’s ability to vote, marry, make medical decisions, or hold a driver’s license. A conservatorship may also prevent a ward from signing contracts, buying, owning or selling property, or paying bills, among other restrictions.
What alternatives exist?
Because guardianships and conservatorships are so restrictive, those considering them may also want to consider whether certain alternative arrangements might meet their needs without stripping away so many of an individual’s rights. For example, creating a durable power of attorney for health care or finances may make sense in some situations. In others, community services or agencies may be able to step in and help a vulnerable loved one, depending on his or her specific needs and vulnerabilities.
Proving that an individual lacks certain capacities is typically necessary before establishing formal guardianship or conservatorship.