Guardianship v. Attorney-in-Fact in DC

Being appointed someone’s guardian and/or their attorney-in-fact is a huge responsibility in DC. In both cases, a person likely doesn’t have the capacity to make their own decisions and thus needs someone looking out for their well-being. Someone who is interested in becoming an individual’s guardian should speak with a DC guardianship lawyer to discuss how they should proceed.

What is a Guardian

A guardian or conservator is somebody who is appointed through court intervention in instances where there is no less restrictive means of intervention to assist someone in making financial, legal, or healthcare decisions for an adult lacking capacity to do so. The process of guardianship or conservatorship requires continued court supervision. Often, it occurs after somebody has already lost the capacity to make his or her own decisions.

Responsibilities of a Guardian

Generally, a DC guardian’s duties involve providing for the basic needs and healthcare of a ward. The guardian visits the ward at least once a month to ensure that the ward is cared for; that their clothes, food and necessities are provided for, and the ward is in a safe living environment. The guardian may also make other healthcare decisions on behalf of the ward.

A conservator’s duties include managing the ward’s assets for the ward’s benefit, such as paying the ward’s bills or coming up with a plan to pay the ward’s bills, paying for the general care or maintenance of the ward, filing the required court reports, and filing any income tax returns on behalf of the ward. If the ward’s assets begin to deplete, a conservator can apply for the necessary public benefits that may help the ward continue to have assets available.

Purpose of Court Supervision

The purpose of court supervision in DC is to monitor both the conservator and the guardian. Even though a guardian is tasked with providing for their ward, the court continues to monitor the status, healthcare, and living situation of the ward in a guardianship case. The court will monitor all of the income and expenses for the ward’s finances by reviewing an annual accounting.

What is an Attorney-in-Fact

An attorney-in-fact or a healthcare agent is nominated in a power of attorney, advanced medical directive or medical power of attorney by an individual when they still have the capacity to nominate someone to act on their behalf. Often, powers of attorney, medical directives or medical powers of attorney do not require continued court supervision; this is one of the biggest differences between a guardian and an attorney-in-fact. In addition, often merely having a power of attorney or medical power of attorney prevents the need for the initiation of a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding. Designation of a power of attorney or health care agent during capacity is often preferred by clients because the documents allow them to plan for the future rather than be subject to court intervention. Preparing a power of attorney or medical power of attorney can often be more cost effective than a guardianship procedure, and a better method for ensuring that your wishes are met if you begin to lose capacity.