Guardianship requires guidance


There are times when it is necessary for the State to step in and impose a guardianship on an adult or a minor, but many people do not understand when or why that might be. Guardianship strikes a delicate balance between the protection of an individual and infringement of individual rights.

“No two cases are alike,” says Marijane Cauthorn, CNO’s managing partner and an approved guardian ad litem for the Probate Court of Cobb County. “It can be an emotional and complicated process for all involved, but knowledge and guidance can help tremendously.”

Here is what you need to know about guardianships in Georgia:

When would a guardianship be appropriate?

The court will require a “guardian,” or decision-maker, when a person is no longer capable of managing his or her own matters. This can be a result of aging, failure to comprehend, or simply lack of self-control. No case is like the other. A guardian must have full and comprehensive knowledge of the ward’s estate, as well as undivided loyalty so they are able to make decisions based on the best interest of the ward.

In the event the court determines that the ward has regained capacity, the ward is entitled to the removal of the guardianship at the earliest possible time. In all cases, the guardianship terminates when the ward dies.

What’s the difference between a guardianship and a conservatorship?

While guardianships are assist with personal and health-related needs, conservatorships assist with financial needs. For example, the guardian of an incapacitated adult may be ordered to file annual reports on the physical and/or mental status of the ward, all conservators must file an inventory of assets and other annual financial accountings.

Who can qualify to be a guardian (substitute decision-maker)?

Georgia law imposes some restrictions on who can become a guardian for a ward. Minors, wards, protected persons, individuals with a conflict of interest with the adult without the court’s approval, and no owner, operator, or employee of a long-term care or other caregiving facility may serve as a guardian. Someone sharing funds, property, or business interests should not even be considered, especially if you are appointed as a conservator. Keep in mind that all the responsibilities that come with guardianship can become a burden. Being accessible to the ward and determining his or her best interests takes time, but annual reporting on the individual adds another layer of work that you may not realize.

“Being a guardian can be an intimidating responsibility similar to the relationship between a parent and a child,” says Cauthorn. “As a guardian, you are given the rights and powers reasonably necessary to provide adequately for the support, care, education, health, and welfare of the ward. That is not an easy task, to say the least.”