Many states in America prefer elderly parent’s children to be their guardians when they are not able to take care of themselves. However, there are cases when professional guardians or people other than family members have been appointed as guardians as well.

Reasons could be many, including there is no surviving family member left to take care of their parent, or the existing guardian recently passed away. In legal terms, the person under guardianship is referred to as ‘ward.’ When a court legally appoints a guardian for incapacitated adults, the guardian is always kept under scrutiny. Reason being that as a guardian, you have a considerable amount of control over your ward’s assets.

Guardianship of elderly parents means that you can take crucial decisions on their behalf. These decisions may include managing their health care and other expenses. It is often in the best interest of your parents that children become their guardian as soon as you feel that they are incapacitated. Apart from their parents, friends and other family members of older persons file a petition for their guardianship.

Importance of Guardianship for Your Parents

Taking guardianship of your parents when they are not able to assume daily responsibilities is very important. Some of the major reasons why your parents need a guardian include:

  • Due to old age, they might not be able to take care of everyday These daily tasks can range from maintaining their hygiene to doing grocery shopping.
  • Elderly parents are also not able to remember and communicate with healthcare and bank representatives. They will need someone to be with them when they need to go to a hospital or write a check.
  • A guardian will be able to protect and secure their confidential information such as social security and bank details.
  • Being a guardian of your elderly parent is a great way to spend time with them and keep them engaged in activities.

Responsibilities of a Guardian

It is important that you have a good understanding of guardianship responsibilities before you nominate yourself for it. Essential responsibilities of a guardian include:

  • Determine Where The Ward Will Live: Based on your parent’s health conditions, you as a guardian can decide about their next home. If you feel that your parents need to go to a nursing home, then you can decide accordingly.
  • Keep A Check On Their Place Of Residence: As a guardian, you can keep a close check on your parents living conditions. This includes checking for appropriate supplies and maintaining proper hygiene at their place of residence.
  • Deciding On Their Financial And Healthcare Needs: As a guardian, you need to ensure that your parents get proper medical treatment. You are also responsible for keeping a check on their expenses and how their assets will be invested. If they are eligible for a required financial benefit, then you need to address that as well.
  • Paying Their Bills On Time: This is one of the most important responsibilities of a guardian. You need to ensure that all your parents’ bills including utility and medical bills are paid on time. This will keep their good standing with all service providers even when they are incapacitated.
  • Releasing Confidential Information: As a guardian, you are the custodian of your parents’ confidential information as well. You need to ensure that your documents are safe and release them to appropriate authorities such as bank staff when required
  • Managing Real Estate and Any Other Tangible Property: You will also have the responsibility of taking care of your parent’s property such as real estate and jewelry. This will ensure that their assets are safe and well maintained.
  • Encourage Independence By Putting Minimal Restrictions: Whenever possible you should let them do their chores. This gives them a sense of responsibility and helps them enjoy their independence. You should not let them feel handicapped.
  • Making End-Of-Life Decisions: Elderly parents have to deal with various end-of-life issues, such as how to distribute their wealth. As their guardian, you need to facilitate them in making these decisions.
  • Reporting To Court about Your Guardianship Status: Under some circumstances, you need to report your guardianship status, at least annually, to the court. The court will then be aware that your parents are not in need of a professional guardian.\

Preparing for Your Parent’s Guardianship In Case You Die

When children become the guardian of their parents, they put all their focus on their parent’s health and well being. However, they tend to forget about what will happen in case they being the sole guardian of their parents die? Mentioned below are some useful points that you need to consider to secure your parent’s interest, after your death:

  • Nominate a successor guardian: There are many important reasons for going through the process of nominating a successor or designating a standby guardian. It is in the best interest of your parents because:
  • You never know whether you will survive longer than your parents or not.
  • Financial or any other hardship may fall upon you as a guardian as well. In such a case you might not remain fit to be your parent’s guardian.
  • Make arrangements to deal with their estate if you are not available: In case you don’t survive, and your parents have not completed estate plans during their life, the distribution of their wealth will be left to the court and laws which might not efficiently handle the assets or handle them in the way your parents would want. It is very important to do estate planning without exceeding the scope of authority you’ve been given by the court, and to get the court’s permission, when needed, to make sure your parents assets efficiently pass when they die. There are a number of tools available to you to make the transition of assets smoother than would be the case if you did nothing.

What If You Don’t Have a Successor Mentioned In the Guardianship Documents

If you have just realized that there is no mention of your successor in the guardianship documents, then you may want to take some quick actions, which may include petitioning for appointment of a standby guardian or making sure you have designated a standby guardian.

Since you and your parents both are alive, the court will give great weight to what you have to say in the selection of your successor.

What Happens When You Die Without Nominating Your Successor

As a guardian, if you don’t want your parents to feel alone when you are not there, then you should do your homework in advance. In case you don’t plan ahead of time, the matter of guardianship may go to court after you die. Some of the steps involved in court proceedings include:

  • Temporary Guardianship: In case a guardian of their parent dies, and there is no successor defined in any guardianship documents, a local court handles the matter. Initially, the court may designate a temporary guardian for your parents. This happens when your parents are severely ill and need immediate help for their wellbeing. This gives time to friends and family to discuss the issue amongst themselves.
  • Family and Friends: In case of your death, other family and friends may nominate themselves to be your successor. However, they will have to prove themselves suitable for this job. They will have to provide the court with sufficient evidence that they will perform in the best interest of your parents.
  • Public Guardian: If no family members or friends show interest to assume your parent’s guardianship then the court may assign it to a public guardian. Most children and other family members don’t favor this type of arrangement. Reason being they lose control over the ward’s well-being and finances. Also, public administrators are quite professional and stringent when it comes to dealing with their family members. They may even limit the number of visits to your parents by friends and family to special occasions.

Termination of Guardianship

Your parent’s guardianship will terminate after their death. Since you will no longer be their guardian anymore, a signed ‘will’ can decide the distribution of assets as prescribed in it.

The court may terminate a guardianship as well. This could be due to some reasons including:

  • The court finds proof that the guardian did not act in the best interest of the ward.
  • If a request is made to the court to dismiss the guardian.

Bottom Line

Guardianship is one of the most useful benefits that you can offer your parents at an elderly age. It helps them maintain good standing in society even when they are not able to make rational decisions for themselves and their family. It is often better to nominate a guardian from amongst the family members rather than having the court handle it for you.

If the matter of elderly guardianship goes to court, it will take a lot of your time and money. While documenting yourself as your parent’s guardian, make sure to mention your successor as well. This will ensure that your parents have someone you can trust who will take care of them even when you are not there.

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