As an adult child, one of the most difficult decisions you will ever have to make is the decision to seek guardianship over one, or both, of your parents. For most people, the thought of seeking guardianship feels in some way like a betrayal, as if you are taking away your parent’s freedom and independence. These feelings are very common and completely understandable; however, failing to step in and become your parent’s guardian could lead to physical injury or financial victimization. So the question then becomes “How do I know when my parent needs a guardian?” There is no sure fire “test” that answers that question but there are some factors that should be considered when making the decision to seek guardianship over a parent.
Physician opinion – if you have access to your parent’s regular physician, his or her opinion of your parent’s physical and mental condition is important. In fact, the court may ask for the physician’s opinion as to your parent’s ability to function without a guardian.
Family member opinions – if other family members have regular contact with your parent it can’t hurt to get their opinion on the subject. You may be too emotionally involved to see things clearly which could cause you to wait too long or “jump the gun’.
Physical disability – is your parent physically disabled to the point that he or she cannot complete daily tasks of living without help?
Mental deterioration – do you see early signs of dementia? Signs include bills not being paid, failing to take medications as directed, not bathing regularly, forgetting appointments or important dates, losing weight from not eating etc.
Recent injuries – have you noticed more frequent injuries? This could indicate an inability to function independently.
Signs of victimization – unfortunately, some people prey on the elderly and disabled. Has money or valuables gone missing from your parent’s home? Is there money unaccounted for on your parent’s bank statement? Are there ATM withdrawals that your parent doesn’t remember making?
If you do decide that a guardianship may be warranted,consult with your New York State estate planning attorney as soon as possible. Guardianship requires you to petition a court which can take time, particularly if your parent objects to the guardianship. If you believe that your parent is at risk for injury, abuse, or victimization, the sooner you get started on the guardianship proceedings the faster you will be able to step in and legally protect your parent.