27 Jul Becoming a Legal Guardian in Washington State: What To Know
The courts can appoint legal guardians to act in the best interests of people who cannot handle their affairs on their own. Typically, guardianship is established to make a competent adult responsible for decisions on behalf of a minor, a senior citizen who is intellectually incapacitated and unable to make safe decisions on their own, or a child or adult with special needs.
A new guardianship law became effective in Washington State in January 2022. This new law permits the appointment of a guardian for persons who are unable to meet their basic health, safety, or self-care needs. In order to appoint a guardian under the new law, the court must find that less restrictive options—such as supported decision-making (SDM) or protective agreements, which are limited arrangements for specified types of decisions only—are not feasible. If there is a significant risk of harm to a person, the court can appoint a guardian.
Steps to Becoming a Guardian
People who have been convicted of crimes involving dishonesty or physical force are disqualified from being appointed as guardians. Employers, employees, or persons who are paid to care for the disabled person or minor child are not eligible, either, with some exceptions for family members. Guardians must be at least 21, or in the case of a parent asking to be a guardian, at least 18.
The court will prefer a person who is close to the person being protected, who knows the person, and who is sensitive to their needs. Family members most often fit this role, if eligible.
A person seeking to become a legal guardian in Washington State must file a petition in the court of the county where the person to be protected lives. They must also request the appointment of a “guardian ad litem,” who will act as the guardian for the individual whose interests are to be protected while the court is deciding on the petition for guardianship. The guardian ad litem files a report of their investigation of the circumstances of the person who is to be subject to the proposed guardianship, including a statement from their doctor or psychiatrist.
The person whose interests are at stake in the proceedings must be given notice of the petition for guardianship.
The court will hold a hearing to determine if guardianship is appropriate or if there is a less restrictive way to help the person, based on what is in their best interest.
Responsibilities of a Legal Guardian
Guardians must file annual reports specifying exactly how they have managed their wards’ affairs, including how they managed their wards’ money and how they fulfilled their wards’ personal care plans. A personal care plan is updated annually to reflect the ward’s current needs.
Guardians should not have more powers than are necessary to meet their wards’ needs. A limited guardianship may establish responsibilities only to make decisions about personal property, finances, contracts, marriage, or other specific categories of decisions. Unlimited guardianships give guardians almost total control over a person’s life: this is why the court must consider less restrictive alternatives if they are more appropriate.
If you believe that someone you love , requires a guardian, contact the experienced practitioners of family law in the Tri-Cities area of Washington State at LaCoste Family Law.