What Constitutes a Guardianship for an Adult?

Guardianship is a process a court uses to grant someone (the guardian) legal authority to make decisions on behalf of another person (the person under guardianship or the respondent) regarding finances and personal care or to manage the person under guardianship's estate. 

There are two general types of guardianship under Washington law: (1) guardianship (of the person); and (2) conservatorship (financial). Both guardianship and conservatorship can be either in full or limited, in terms of authority granted.

1. Guardianship

A guardianship is created for an adult who cannot manage their health, safety or self-care, including daily activities and make decisions, due to deteriorated mental capacity or impairment caused by a disability, illness or injury. Guardianship is not an action that only effects the elderly. A guardian can be appointed for anyone over the age of 18, when that person is not meeting requirements for their own health, safety and self-care, and/or unable to take in and process information or participate in decision-making on behalf of themselves. The court will consider appointing a guardian if it is necessary to protect the person, and a less restrictive alternative arrangement cannot be made.

2. Conservatorship

A conservatorship is created when an adult cannot manage their finances and assets (i.e. property) due to deteriorated mental capacity or impairment caused by a disability, illness or injury. A conservator only has authority over the person under conservatorship's estate, and is responsible for managing their finances in such a way as to responsibly provide for the person under conservatorship 

What Does a Guardianship Do in Washington?

A guardian or conservator has the power to make important decisions on the person under guardianship's behalf. Some common duties they may be permitted to undertake include:

  • Changing legal rights, generally
  • Fixing the person under guardianship's residence or dwelling
  • Accessing the person under guardianship's confidential records 
  • Consenting or withholding consent to marriage 
  • Entering into contracts on behalf of the person under guardianship
  • Giving or withholding medical consent on behalf of the person under guardianship
  • Selecting the person under guardianship's relationships

Of course, not all of the above duties will apply to each individual case. In fact, the specific powers of a guardian or conservator can be limited. Moreover, a person may have different people serve as their guardian and conservator. For example, one person may have a conservator to specifically handle financial matters and a guardian to address health care and other personal matters.

How are Guardians/Conservators Appointed in Spokane?

Guardianships and conservatorships are appointed by a court. The exact process for becoming a conservator depends first on the procedures set out by the specific court overseeing the process. Unique circumstances also impact how a conservatorship materializes: are you the one seeking to become a conservator or are you the one who needs a conservator? 

In the first instance, you would file a petition with the court. The filing must be served on the person potentially needing guardianship, called the respondent, and must set forth why the respondent's condition results in the inability to make important decisions. A hearing will be held, and the judge will examine the evidence and make a decision.

In the second instance, absent a pending petition, and in lieu of a family member, living will, or another relevant document, the court will appoint a conservator. The conservator can be any number of people, like a:

  • Friend
  • Social worker
  • Neighbor
  • Church member
  • Attorney
  • Nurse
  • Another qualified person.

The court takes these matters seriously and will attempt to award the guardianship or conservatorship to the best person, but that person may not always be available.

Can a Guardianship or Conservatorship be Contested or Terminated in Washington ?

A petition requesting the court to award a guardianship or conservatorship over you or someone you love can be contested. When the petition is filed and served, you can respond, contesting it. The rules vary according to jurisdictions, so speaking with an attorney is your best way to avoid delays and errors in the process. 

As for termination, guardianships or conservatorships are typically made as a permanent arrangement. They are terminated upon the person under guardianship's death or recovery from the illness or injury that had incapacitated them. 

There are times, too, when a court will remove a guardian or conservator when cause is found (like abuse or financial impropriety). That said, simply because the guardian or conservator is removed does not remove the guardianship or conservatorship. Another guardian or conservator will be appointed unless the reason for the protective arrangement no longer exists.  

Contact a Guardianship Attorney to Understand Guardianships and Conservatorships in Washington

Guardianships and conservatorships are serious, and the person under guardianship/conservatorship can lose control of some or all of their financial, medical, and personal matters. Speaking to an attorney to determine what makes sense in your unique situation is critical. At Law Office of Amy Rimov, our guardianship attorney will address your concerns and guide you through the process. Contact us online or at (509) 835-5377 to schedule a consultation.