Guardianship Lawyer Washington State
What is guardianship?
Guardianship is a legal tool used to help someone who is at unable to make good decisions for themselves and their property. Often a person who needs a guardian can be victimized by scams, fraud, and bad actors.
When you become a guardian you’re given legal authority to make decisions on behalf of the protected person. The protected person can be a child or an adult.
A child may need guardianship if their parents pass away or are out of the child’s life for various reasons. Sometimes if a child inherits a sum of money from their parents a guardian will be appointed to manage the assets until the child turns 18.
An adult may need guardianship if they have special needs or if they’re experiencing mental illness, dementia or alzheimer’s. In all cases a guardian’s role is to look after the protected person’s best interests.
Do you need guardianship if you have power of attorney?
If you already have a power of attorney you may need a guardianship if the protected person signed the power of attorney without the ability to understand the document.
Understanding is a key element because power of attorneys are entered into without court oversight. Therefore, it’s important that a person comprehends what they are signing.
If the protected person is mentally capable of understanding the rights they are transferring to the other person, then a power of attorney is a valid tool. However, the power of attorney would be rejected if it is shown that it was created when the protected person was mentally incompetent.
In contrast, during the guardianship process the state assigns a representative called a guardian ad litem to investigate the need for a guardian. This ensures the individual isn’t taken advantage of.
Guardianship vs. Power of Attorney Washington State
A power of attorney and guardianship give a person a similar role. In each case a person is given power to make decisions on behalf of another person.
A power of attorney is much more flexible. It defines a specific set of circumstances where a person may act on behalf of the other. Generally it’s less expensive, more private and can be easily revoked or transferred. However, this flexibility may not be in a person’s best interests if they are unable to make sound decisions on their own.
Guardianship is more formal and is created through the courts. Guardianship can be granted over the person (i.e. medical decisions), their estate (i.e. financial decisions), or both. Once granted it can’t be easily revoked or changed. In addition, the guardian must submit annual reports to the court to maintain the guardianship.
How to get legal guardianship of a child?
Generally guardianship of a child is filed by a family member, such as an uncle, aunt or grandparent. Since a guardianship gives another adult parental decision making rights, usually parents are deceased, sick, or in prison. However guardians can also be appointed if a parent agrees that it would be better for the child if someone else makes decisions.
Once the initial paperwork is filed, the court will assign a person called a guardian ad litem to the case. A guardian ad litem investigates the reasons for guardianship and reports to the court whether it is in the best interest of the child. The guardian ad litem will also explore other alternatives to guardianship.
If the report comes back positive a hearing will be scheduled where the court should issue an order approving the guardianship. This order along with letters of guardianship can be provided to various organizations such as schools and medical offices, to give the guardian authority to make decisions for the child.
How to get guardianship of an adult?
The first step to get guardianship of an adult is to file a guardianship petition with the Superior Court. The petition is a legal document that asks the court to determine that a guardian is appropriate and appoint a guardian. In order to appoint a guardian the court must find that the person is incapacitated.
“Originally this guide was designed to help special needs parents file for guardianship of their children who were turning 18, but it can be used by all individuals filing for guardianship in Washington. Whether filing for an elderly grandparent or a son with Downs Syndrome, the principles and steps will be the same.”
Second, notice must be given to the appropriate parties. At a minimum notice of the petition must be given to the individual who may need a guardian.
Third, a court will assign a guardian ad litem. A guardian ad litem is an individual that evaluates the situation on the court’s behalf and reports back to the judge. Part of the investigation will require confirmation from a physician or psychologist that the individual is in fact incapacitated.
Lastly, the potential guardian will need to complete guardianship training and attend a final hearing where the court will approve the order.
How long does the process of filing for guardianship take in Washington State?
Expect the guardianship process to be complete within two months of filing your petition. Hearings can be held within 10 days of filing, but typically they are held with 45-60 days after service.
Below are two important deadlines to keep in mind. Be sure to check that these specific deadlines apply in your county.
1) 5 days after the petition is filed it needs to be served to the individual who may need a guardian.
2) The guardian ad litem must then submit their report to the court within 45 days of the petition being filed and not later than 15 days before the final hearing.