The process for becoming a guardian in Washington, DC is complicated and can be costly. It involves at least one court hearing and possibly trial. There are several initial pleadings required to begin the proceeding. It severely limits an individual’s rights to make decisions on his or her own behalf, and is a process that the court takes very seriously. Even after the appointment of a guardian, the court continues to oversee the guardianship. It requires frequent reporting on the status of the ward and the ward’s funds. Ask a DC guardianship lawyer for more information about becoming a guardian and what duties are entailed.
Courts om DC may appoint a guardian for a minor child who has been orphaned or who is inheriting or receiving money. The court may also appoint a guardian for an adult lacking the requisite capacity to make healthcare, legal, or financial decisions for his or her own behalf.
Requirements to Becoming a Guardian in DC
To be a guardian, a person must petition the D.C. Superior Court to be appointed. After the petition is filed, the petitioner mails or delivers the required notices to the interested persons of the case. Interested persons often include the heirs of the ward as if he or she had passed away. A DC guardianship attorney is usually also appointed to represent the ward’s interests.
There is usually an initial hearing. At the hearing, the judge will review the petition and the answer by the ward’s attorney. If all parties consent to the guardianship and the evidence that’s been supplied with the initial pleadings satisfies the judges or satisfies the requirement of proving lack of capacity, then the judge may appoint the petitioner as the guardian.
If the guardianship is contested, usually because there is a question of whether the ward lacks capacity or the petitioner is the best person to serve on the ward’s behalf, then the judge may set a trial date and outline a schedule for the required discovery. At the trial, evidence may be presented to show that the ward lacks capacity to make his or her own decisions.
Process of Obtaining Guardianship in DC
Having someone appointed as a guardian severely restricts the ward’s rights and liberties. Judges take the matter seriously, and often proceed cautiously before appointing a guardian. If all parties are in agreement that the ward needs a guardian and if the petitioning guardian for the ward is unopposed, the process can be more streamlined. However, in the event of a contested guardianship, the process can be more involved. One way to avoid a potentially complicated guardianship case is to hire a lawyer with local DC experience and knows how these proceedings typically work.
If More Than One Person Petitions
The court will evaluate all of the candidates and will determine which guardian would be in the best interest of the incapacitated adult or orphaned ward. Often the ward’s choice would be weighed strongly. Also, evidence or testimony presented by the treating physicians or the staff at the person’s healthcare facility may weigh favorably for one candidate versus another.
Common Misconceptions About the Process
One misconception is that applying for the guardianship of an adult allows you the ability to involuntarily commit the adult into a mental facility or institution. Often when adults suffer from drug addiction or severe mental illness, parents or siblings want to work to get them into treatment or place the adult into rehab. Being appointed someone’s guardian in DC does not necessarily give you the authority to involuntarily commit a person to a mental health facility. Often, another proceeding is required separate from the guardianship proceeding.
A second big misconception is that the person serving in the capacity of guardian has the right to use the ward’s money as he or she wants for his or her own benefit. The funds of an adult lacking capacity to make his or her own decisions are kept separate from the guardian’s personal funds, and used solely for the ward’s benefit. Often, there is a misconception that a DC guardian has the authority to make testamentary decisions regarding the guardianship assets. The guardian’s authority over the assets ends when the ward reaches the age of majority or passes away. Through the termination process of the guardianship, the guardian often turns over the assets to the court appointed Personal Representative of the estate.
Ending a Guardianship in DC
There are several reasons to end a guardianship. Some reasons include: the ward regains capacity, the death of the ward, the death of the guardian or conservator, or a removal of the guardian or conservator for breach of his or her duties. For minor children, a guardianship is often concluded because the child has reached the age of majority.
For both adults and minor children, there are filing requirements to conclude the guardianship matter. In such instances where someone is trying to end their guardianship, or their guardianship has reached a natural conclusion, having a DC guardianship attorney can streamline the process and make it easier for all parties involved.
How an Attorney Can Help You Become a Guardian
First, an attorney can help you evaluate whether a guardian is needed in the District of Columbia. Then they can advise you on what your responsibilities would be as guardian. They can also help you prepare the initial pleadings, represent you at the court hearings and any subsequent trial, help you prepare all the required court reports after you are appointed, and continue to advise you of your responsibilities throughout the term of the guardianship. Additionally, because becoming someone’s guardian can sometimes be a necessity born out of a devastating event, a guardianship attorney in DC can help the people going through the process on an emotional level as well. They can be sure that the people they loved are being taken care of.