If you have a friend or family member who may need a legal guardian, it’s important to understand your legal options. Under Pennsylvania law, courts can appoint legal guardianships for an adult who lacks enough capacity to manage his or her own affairs. The guardianship process begins when an interested person files a petition for guardianship. The court will decide whether the disabled adult meets the definition of “incapacitated.”
When guardianship for an adult has been established, the court will oversee the guardianship to ensure the guardian is acting in the disabled person’s best interest. If you would like to pursue guardianship in Pittsburgh, Jones, Gregg, Creehan & Gerace LLP will provide high-quality legal services. We have the knowledge, resources, and skills to resolve your adult guardianship matter efficiently and diligently.
The Definition of “Incapacity” Under Pennsylvania Law
Courts will only require guardianship when a person meets the legal definition of being incapacitated. Incapacity can occur due to a person becoming impaired due to illness, injury, or advanced age. Developmental disabilities can cause an adult to be considered incapacitated.
Pennsylvania law defines an incapacitated person as an adult “whose ability to receive and evaluate information effectively and to make and communicate decisions in any way is impaired to such a significant extent that he or she is partially or totally unable to manage his or her financial resources or to meet essential requirements for his or her physical health and safety.”
Who Can Become the Guardian of an Incapacitated Adult?
Only interested parties have the right to file a petition for guardianship of an adult. The following categories of individuals and organizations can be appointed as guardians by Pennsylvania Orphans’ Courts:
- Corporate fiduciaries
- Any qualified individual
- A non-profit corporation
- County agency
- Guardianship support agency
The Guardianship Process
Any interested party can file a petition for guardianship. After the court receives a petition for guardianship, the judge will conduct a hearing. During the hearing, the court will hear evidence as to whether the person in question meets the definition of being legally incapacitated. The court may hear the testimony of qualified professionals regarding the individual’s capacity.
Medical doctors, including psychiatrists and other health care providers, can testify to the individual’s ability to care for him or herself. Once the court has determined whether the person is incapacitated, it can determine what type of legal guardianship will serve his or her best interests.
Ongoing Responsibilities of Guardians
When an individual petitions the court for guardianship, he or she will need to undergo a criminal background check. If the court decides to enforce guardianship, the guardian will become responsible for making decisions for the incapacitated individual, referred to as “the ward”.
Depending on the type of guardianship awarded, the guardian can make decisions regarding finances, health, and other important life matters. Legal guardians are required to submit regular reports to the court relaying their actions. Guardians will also be subject to tracking under the Guardianship Tracking System implemented by Pennsylvania.
The Two Types of Adult Guardianships in Pennsylvania
A guardian may be limited in the decisions he or she can make for the ward. Guardians may be limited to making financial decisions for the ward or may have the legal authority to make nearly all decisions on behalf of the ward. There are two types of guardianship awarded by courts in Pennsylvania: guardianship of the person and guardianship of the estate. Guardianship of the person allows the guardianship the authority to make decisions about the following matters on behalf of the ward:
- Living arrangements
- Any other daily living matters
When the court awards guardianship of the estate, the guardian will handle all of the ward’s financial matters. Guardians have the right to make decisions about the ward’s income, real estate holdings, investments, and any other benefits or assets. The guardian has a fiduciary duty to manage the ward’s property in good faith.
Contested Adult Guardianships
Caring for a loved one with a disability will require a guardian’s full attention. The guardian must constantly make decisions in the disabled person’s best interests, whether he or she has a mental or physical illness. Contested guardianships can happen when a family member believes the guardian is unfit and doesn’t have the ward’s best interest in mind.
Most guardianship contest cases involve allegations of unsafe living arrangements and poor management of the incapacitated party’s financial resources. Once a court grants guardianship, the guardian has wide discretion to abuse his or her powers by acting contrary to the incapacitated person’s best interests. Incapacitated individuals have the right to hire an attorney or request that an attorney be present at all hearings, and ask for an independent evaluation of his or her alleged incapacities. Whether you’d like to contest guardianship or defend against allegations of abuse, working with a skilled attorney is essential.
If you’re considering petitioning a court for guardianship of a loved one, understanding your options can help you make an informed decision. When guardianship disputes arise, mediation can be helpful. The dispute may be resolved without proceeding to probate litigation.
Pursue an Emergency Guardianship in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania courts have the authority to issue guardianship on a permanent or emergency basis. Generally, courts will award emergency guardianships to the person for 72 hours after the ward has undergone a sudden or emergency medical condition, leaving him or her incapacitated. Courts generally award emergency guardianships of the estate for up to 30 days. When the court awards a permanent or full guardianship, it is called a “plenary” guardianship.
Discuss Your Adult Guardianship Case with a Skilled Attorney
Pursuing guardianship can be difficult, but it may be necessary when a person can no longer care for himself or herself. The attorneys at Jones, Gregg, Creehan & Gerace LLP are prepared to answer your questions and help you understand your rights and options. Contact Jones, Gregg, Creehan & Gerace LLP to schedule a case evaluation.