When we think of someone becoming another person’s “guardian,” we usually think of an adult who is standing in for a child’s parents. But as our population ages in Indiana and across the U.S., more families are seeking the help of a divorce lawyer to assist with guardianships for their elderly relatives and loved ones.

Adult guardianships and conservatorships are two different types of responsibility and control over the affairs of adults who are no longer able to care for their own needs or make their own financial or medical decisions.

HOW ARE GUARDIANSHIPS AND CONSERVATORSHIPS DEFINED?

We’re all going to get older – and so are the people we love – so keep reading, because it’s smart for everyone to understand:

1. the difference between adult guardianships and conservatorships in Indiana
2. how adult guardianships and conservatorships help those in Indiana who can no longer manage their affairs

Defined simply, a conservator helps an adult make financial decisions, while a guardian takes control of the adult’s healthcare decisions to ensure that the adult receives necessary medications and medical treatment.

A conservator’s role, then, is primarily financial, while an adult guardian’s role is primarily health-related.

WHAT ARE THE QUESTIONS A FAMILY WILL NEED ANSWERED?

Guardianship and conservatorship proceedings may become quite complicated in this state, but when someone in your family – especially an elderly family member – gets sick or becomes incapacitated, guardianship and conservatorship are options that you’ll need to understand.

If someone in your family needs assistance with financial and/or medical decisions, a Lake County family law attorney can explain how adult guardianships and conservatorships work and answer these key questions:

1. Does my family need adult guardianship?
2. Are there alternatives to guardianship? What are the other options?
3. How can a guardianship attorney help?

If you want to assume legal responsibility for someone you love who needs your help, an experienced family lawyer can provide the invaluable insights and the sound legal advice that you’ll need.

WHO WILL A COURT NAME AS A GUARDIAN OR AS A CONSERVATOR?

The court’s first choice is ideally an immediate family member, a spouse or a domestic partner, a parent, or an adult child. If no immediate family member is available or suitable for the task, the court will consider other relatives or friends.

If no family member or friend is available to serve as a guardian or conservator, an Indiana court may appoint an attorney who regularly handles guardianship and conservatorship matters.

WHO MAY REQUIRE AN ADULT GUARDIAN?

Adults who may require guardians are unable to make decisions, communicate their decisions, or manage their own affairs. While this usually means elderly adults, it could also mean any adult with developmental disabilities or anyone who has suffered a severe traumatic brain injury.

When a guardianship is required for an incompetent or an incapacitated adult, the adult who is given a guardian is legally referred to as a “ward.”

A relative or a close friend will need to petition the court for adult guardianship. You’ll need a family law attorney’s help. An Indiana judge may appoint a guardian when an adult is comatose, incapacitated, or has dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other psychological or mental impairments.

HOW DOES A CONSERVATOR DIFFER FROM A GUARDIAN?

A conservator is also appointed by a judge, and you will also need to petition the court for a conservatorship.

Usually, rather than dealing with medical matters, a conservator instead takes charge of an incapacitated or incompetent estate owner’s financial decisions. A conservator may manage:

1. estate investments
2. payment and collection of bills and debts
3. revenue from cash flows into the estate

A conservator may also manage or monitor a business, partnership, or trust.

HOW CAN YOU TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR OWN FUTURE?

If you eventually become incompetent or incapacitated, and if you have not made arrangements in advance, you might end up not having any say regarding who the court appoints as your guardian.

Someone that you may not want as a guardian could be appointed, and in many families, a dispute arises when a guardian or a conservator is needed.

But a guardianship dispute will not be necessary – and the wrong person will not be appointed as your guardian – if you take the right measures now.

You have a number of legal options, and you can ensure that your wishes will be carried out, but to do so, you must plan ahead.

HOW CAN A FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY HELP YOU?

When you create a durable power of attorney, advanced directives, or a living trust with an attorney’s help, you are planning for incapacity and ensuring that your wishes will be honored.

Many family lawyers in Indiana can prepare these documents for you and explain the particulars and the details.

If you already have any of these documents prepared, it cannot hurt to have a skilled family lawyer review the documents to ensure that they are enforceable and that your intentions will, in fact, be carried out.

WHAT DO GUARDIANSHIPS AND CONSERVATORSHIPS REQUIRE?

If you need to become a guardian or a conservator to someone you love here in Indiana, there are a number of legal technicalities that you will need to understand and some requirements that you will need to meet.

You will need a physician’s statement which describes the diagnosis and functional limitations of the person requiring guardianship. The court may temporarily name a guardian ad litem, who will act as an advocate for the incapacitated person during the proceedings.

The court will then conduct a guardianship hearing and make a determination based on the evidence and the merits of the claim. In most cases, this process is undisputed, routine, and relatively straightforward.

WHO CAN OFFER THE LEGAL HELP THAT YOU’LL NEED?

You must have the guidance of a reliable and reputable family lawyer who has guardianship and conservatorship experience and knows what is required in guardianship and conservatorship procedures.

Arrange at once to meet with a family law attorney if you need help:

1. becoming a guardian or conservator
2. fulfilling your duties as a guardian or conservator
3. creating a power of attorney, advanced directives, or a living trust

CAN THE SAME PERSON SERVE IN BOTH CAPACITIES?

If an Indiana court believes such action is appropriate, it can name both a conservator and a guardian for an incapacitated or incompetent adult. The same person can be someone’s guardian and conservator, but the court may also appoint two different persons to serve in the two roles.

Here in Indiana, if a guardian will be required to handle more than $24,000 annually on behalf of a ward, then a judge will usually appoint a conservator to oversee the ward’s financial affairs.

Nothing is more important than your own future and the futures of those you love. If you need legal help to establish a guardianship or conservatorship in Indiana, or if you have more questions, contact a reputable family lawyer at once – and get the answers you need.