As you age, it can be frightening to think of a time when you may no longer be able to care for yourself. Likewise, if you have an aging parent who is starting to show worrisome signs that they may require supervision, you may feel uncertain of what steps to take. Like most states, Washington offers the possibility of establishing a legal guardianship when an elderly individual becomes unable to make sound decisions on their own. In many cases, a legal guardian is there to support the aging person by encouraging them to express their autonomy—and, when necessary, to gently step in and make important decisions when that person is unable to do so. It’s worth taking a brief look at the guardianship process in Washington state so that you can approach the future with some understanding of the options available to you.
The Guardian’s Role
When a guardian is assigned to support an elderly individual, their role is to serve as that person’s advocate and to encourage them to continue to express their wishes to the best of their ability. According to the Washington state legislature, a guardian walks a fine balance between fostering the individual’s independence and exercising authority when necessary to protect the person’s finances and health. Essentially, a guardian should strive to protect the individual’s best interests whenever possible, whether through encouraging them to express their wishes or stepping in to serve as their voice.
The Guardianship Process
The first step of establishing guardianship is to determine whether the individual in question can no longer take care of themselves, as demonstrated by their inability to provide themselves with the nutrition, health, housing, or physical needs they require. If the court determines that a person does need a guardian to support this incapacitated individual, they will decide whether to establish a limited guardianship (granting the guardian responsibilities in only one area, such as financial matters), or a full guardianship. In general, the court tends to only grant full guardianship when all viable alternatives have been exhausted, as full guardianships may lead to severe limitations on the individual’s freedom and autonomy.
Supporting an Individual’s Wishes
In the most successful guardianships, the guardian works together with the individual to empower them and encourage them to share their unique talents. The court will work hard to identify the best individual to serve as a guardian. In many cases, a guardian could be the person’s spouse, adult child, or other family member. If the incapacitated person has no close relatives, or if these relatives are not up to the responsibilities required of the guardian, the court may appoint a professional guardian instead. Ultimately, the goal of the guardian is to ensure that the aging individual feels supported in their daily lives, and that their personal safety is protected as much as possible.
For more information about how guardianships in Washington state are established, reach out to Legacy Law Group at (509) 315-8087 to speak to a skilled elder law attorney today.