Estate Planning | Understanding Legal Guardianship
Estate Planning | In the American legal system, all people have the right to make their own decisions. Whether you are
a defendant accused of a crime or a patient in the hospital, you have the legal right to decide how you
want to proceed. This autonomy is critical to a fair and just society. However, when people are no
longer competent, other legal measures may be taken.
When an individual no longer has the ability to make rational decisions, it is legally possible to appoint
someone else to make those decisions on his or her behalf. This process is called guardianship or
conservatorship. When guardians are legally appointed, they assume the power to make financial and
legal decisions for that individual.
There are a variety of reasons why a guardian may be appointed. In most cases, a guardian is chosen
to help out older individuals who no longer have the mental capacity to understand their options and
responsibilities. Many people start to suffer from memory loss as they age, making them more prone
to financial or legal mistakes. Various illnesses may also impede one’s cognition and memory.
Understandably, establishing guardianship is an involved legal process. After all, an individual is
having his or her rights taken away. The individual in question must be notified of the proceedings,
and he or she should also have legal counsel. If the individual is not in agreement with the
guardianship, he or she will have the right to submit their own evidence to the court.
Guardianships can also vary depending on the outcome. Some cases may remove all legal rights while
others may only provide guardianship in certain contexts. For example, an individual may concede
financial guardianship but retain the right to make his or her own medical decisions. Guardianship may
also be established as part of overall estate planning. Because of these factors, it is important to
pursue guardianship or estate planning with the help of a lawyer you trust.
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