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Guardianship is the appointment by a court of a person or entity to make personal and/or property decisions for an individual whom the court finds cannot make decisions for themselves.

These may be decisions about an individual’s property, personal affairs, or both. Guardians can be family members, friends, professionals working at for-profit and non-profit entities, and lawyers, among others. State courts, often specialized courts that may be called probate courts, surrogates courts, or orphan’s courts, appoint guardians.

Guardians are fiduciaries. Fiduciaries are people or organizations that act on behalf of someone else and have high duties of trust, care, honesty and confidentiality. When making decisions for the person they serve, fiduciaries must put the interests of that person above their own interests. Other types of fiduciaries include agents under a power of attorney, trustees, Social Security representative payees and VA fiduciaries. Guardians have a dual duty – to the individual for whom they are appointed and to the court.

What guardianship is called depends on your state.  Frequently “guardian” refers to someone appointed to make personal decisions, and “conservator” refers to someone appointed to make financial decisions, but some states use different terms. This website will use the generic term “guardian” to refer to an appointed person who makes personal or financial decisions unless otherwise specified.

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Guardianship Overview

Guardians are appointed when a court determines that an individual is at risk because they cannot make decisions for themselves and there is no less restrictive way to meet the individual’s needs. Guardianship may remove a broad spectrum of rights from the individual.

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Less Restrictive Options

Guardianship should be a last resort because it takes away individual rights. There is an array of alternatives to guardianship.

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Key Concepts and Resources

State law governs many aspects of guardianship, including the process for appointing the guardian, protections for the person subject to guardianship, and the duties of guardians once appointed. Guardians should use person-centered planning to guide actions and change in the person’s life.

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Mistreatment and Abuse by Guardians and Other Fiduciaries

Some guardians have taken advantage of people for whom they have been appointed.  There are remedies for abuse, neglect and exploitation by guardians and other fiduciaries through the courts and through government entities and non-profit agencies. 

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Help for Judges Hearing Guardianship Cases

A new tool and accompanying resources to assist judges adjudicating guardianship.

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More Resources About Guardianship and Alternatives

Helpful websites with more information about guardianship and alternatives.