Most aging individuals wish to remain as independent as they can for as long as possible. However, there may come a time when an older person loses the ability to make decisions for themselves. This cognitive decline may occur gradually or come on suddenly, so it’s important to understand what options are available to support the aging individual and ensure that they remain safe. In Washington state, a guardianship can be established in order to protect the rights and safety of the vulnerable individual. Let’s take a look at how the guardianship process works and what steps you can take to ensure that your loved one is well-cared for, no matter what the future holds.
The Purpose of a Guardianship Under Washington State Law
The state of Washington recognizes that vulnerable or incapacitated people require additional legal protections to ensure that their rights are upheld. Section 11.88.005 of the Washington State Legislature states, “people with incapacities have unique abilities and needs, and…some people with incapacities cannot exercise their rights or provide for their basic needs without the help of a guardian.” Essentially, when an individual is deemed to be incapacitated, a guardianship can be created so that the guardian can advocate for the rights of the person in their care. The legislature clearly indicates that, although the guardian obtains substantial authority over the management of the incapacitated individual’s affairs, all efforts should be made to allow the incapacitated person to live as autonomously as possible.
The Role of the Guardian
When a guardianship is granted, the guardian enters into a fiduciary relationship with the incapacitated individual. This means that the guardian must act with honesty, fidelity, and loyalty towards the individual they are protecting. The guardian may be assigned numerous and varied duties, from monitoring the conditions and needs of the incapacitated person to navigating health care decisions and treatments on behalf of the individual in their care. Whenever possible, the guardian must make decisions in accordance with the wishes of the incapacitated person. If the incapacitated person cannot communicate these wishes and has not documented them, then the guardian must act in the best interests of the individual. In order to remain open and transparent with the incapacitated person and their loved ones, guardians often keep detailed records of their decision-making processes and other documentation that details their commitment to maintaining their fiduciary relationship.
Appointing a Guardian in Spokane Valley
To initiate the guardianship process, you may file a petition with the Superior Court. It’s important to note that the person who files the petition does not necessarily have to wish to serve as the guardian. This petition asks the court to determine that the individual is indeed incapacitated and that this necessitates the appointment of a guardian. Once the petition is filed, the alleged incapacitated individual (AIP) will be notified of this action through a guardianship proceeding notice. From there, the court will assign a guardian ad litem (GAL) to assess whether the AIP needs a guardian. The GAL will compile a report and submit it to all of the involved parties. At the hearing, the AIP may voice their objection to the guardianship, and the court will use the GAL’s report to determine whether to establish the guardianship. Once a guardianship is established, it can be modified or terminated at any time by the court. At any point in the process, you can enlist the assistance of a knowledgeable elder law attorney to ensure that the process moves smoothly and successfully.
Reach out to the dedicated elder law attorneys at Legacy Law Group today by calling (509) 315-8087 to learn more about guardianships in Spokane Valley.