Alternatives to guardianship
There is such a thing as too much help
December 7, 2010
What if someone you know cannot handle his financial matters anymore? What if he cannot take care of himself? What can you do if you are sure he is being exploited? How can you protect a family member or friend who is having problems managing his affairs because of a physical or mental disability?
A probate court can appoint a guardian to direct the legal and financial affairs, as well as the personal care of a person who is deemed "incompetent." A guardian is accountable to the probate court. However, guardianship is not the only way to meet the needs of someone who is having difficulty handling personal or financial affairs.
Appointing a guardian takes away a person's ability to make decisions about his or her life. Independence and self-determination are important to all people, and this loss of personal rights is why guardianship is a very serious step. Because guardianship for adults is intrusive, it should be considered only after reasonable alternatives, which place fewer restrictions on a person, have been investigated.
There are alternatives that provide supports for the person or substitute decision making authority in specific areas.
- Direct deposit, electronic payment and joint accounts: Sometimes the problems with keeping track of a person's funds can be solved through direct deposit of income payments. Bank accounts can be set up for payment of regular bills, and withdrawal limits can help stop exploitation.
- Advance directives: With an advance directive, a person can appoint someone to make her medical decisions in the future if she becomes incapacitated. An advance directive can include information about the type of treatment the person wants. Medical guardianship usually is unnecessary if a person has a properly executed advance directive.
- Power of attorney: A competent individual can delegate to another person the power to manage specific financial affairs on his behalf. A power of attorney can be written in such a way that it does not become effective unless the person becomes incapacitated, and can be revoked at any time.
- Representative payee: A representative payee manages all of a person's financial needs. A person who receives benefits may have a payee receive the benefits and pay bills.
- Trust: Trusts usually are used when someone wants to give a significant amount of money or property to a person who will need assistance in managing them. A trust is a legal plan for placing funds in the control of a trustee for the benefit of the person. A trust, however, may affect the person's eligibility for some public benefit programs.
- Case management: A case manager through a social services agency often can provide the supports and assistance that a person needs.
- Circle of support: An informal network of friends and family often can help a person before she reaches the point that guardianship would be necessary.
The success of guardianship alternatives depends on the skill of the support people for the individual and the relationships among the individual's circle of support. Anyone in a support role should be willing to:
- Listen to the person;
- Honestly assess his abilities;
- Respect his choices;
- Be available in crisis;
- Do needed paperwork;
- Be a creative advocate; and
- Keep him informed about what you are doing.
If you or someone close to you needs information about how to protect and help someone, call your area agency on aging at 1-866-243-5678. Also, ask friends and family members for the name of an attorney who is knowledgeable about probate matters. ProSeniors provides free legal information, advice and referral for Ohio residents age 60 and older.
About Aging Issues
Twice each month, the Ohio Department of Aging delivers Aging Issues, a column from Director Barbara E. Riley that examines topics of interest to older Ohioans, their family members and others who care for and serve them. Aging Issues is intended for personal use as well as re-publication in newspapers, newsletters and other publications with older adults as a target audience.
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