The law defines a guardian as “someone chosen either by a court or by being named in a legal document such as a will” to oversee the decision making process for the “ward” (someone who can’t make decisions for themselves). Guardianship in Vermont has many rewards, but it really is a commitment.
Guardianship in Vermont – Tremendous Responsibility
It sounds simple enough, of course, but there’s a lot to consider before you agree to serve in the role as guardian. It’s a tremendous responsibility; however, it’s quite rewarding knowing you’re doing something to help someone who may have no one else. This week, we take a look at the benefits and potential disadvantages of becoming a guardian.
First things first – our clients usually want to know what kind of decisions they will find themselves making in their role as guardian. Those decisions might include:
- Giving consent for medical care or treatments
- Making financial decisions, including big ticket purchases such as built-in swimming pools or cars or housing leases
- Ensuring monthly expenses are met, including credit card payments, utilities, insurance, rent or mortgage, etc.
- Making educational decisions, such as enrolling for new college classes or non-credit courses
- Making dental appointments or other medical check-up appointments
- Monthly budgeting considerations
In other words, you will be responsible for the decisions made for the ward, whether you make them or they do. Often, people can make the easier decisions in their lives, such as choosing their own clothes or making the decision to add satellite television but they may need the help of a guardian to make some of life’s bigger decisions and then being able to trust the guardian to follow through. Things like medical procedures come to mind.
Mental and Physical Guardianships
Typically, there are mental or physical disabilities that prevent a person from living completely independent and this is where guardianship comes into the picture. Of course, there are those who are completely reliant on their guardian, such as those with Alzheimer’s or dementia or those who were injured at some point in their lives and it affects their daily lives to the extent that they are unable to function solely within their own capacities.
It’s a very important decision, but the person needs someone whom he trusts to make the best decisions on their behalf. The courts take an interest as well and they often oversee the guardian’s efforts.
There are several factors that go into the court’s approval. One might be that the ward themselves has requested someone specific. The courts prefer someone who is related to the ward and someone who the ward likes and trusts. Spouses, parents or adult children are the most obvious choices, though not always the best choice. Other times, courts will appoint an employee with the social services department that’s assisting the ward already, provided the ward is comfortable with that.
What typically isn’t considered in the decision making process is the potential guardian’s education or finances.
That said, it’s a tremendous responsibility and in many instances, it can feel as though the guardian is raising a child for no other reason than it’s an around the clock responsibility. It can be rewarding, though, even though it’s a role that should not be made without carefully considering all of the potential problems.
Be sure to consult with an estate planning attorney so that you can better understand your role. Don’t forget, too, that often, you’ll be dealing with government agencies, including Medicaid and Social Services. It’s an important responsibility, no doubt, but if you’re up for it, you can bring about great things for your loved one.