Guardianship of an Adult

 A Guardian is appointed by the judge to make decisions for someone who, because of mental or physical illness or disability or alcohol or drug abuse, can't make those decisions. The law calls this individual an "incapacitated person." An incapacitated adult for whom a Guardian has been appointed is referred to by law as a "ward." The decisions a Guardian makes concern arrangements for the adult ward's housing, education, medical care, food, clothing, and social activities.

Often, friends or family members ask the court for legal authority to act as Guardian. When no friend or family member is willing to accept this responsibility, the judge may appoint a private fiduciary who charges fees for services provided. If the ward has no money, the judge may appoint the Maricopa County Public Fiduciary as Guardian.

A Guardian may be appointed for an adult either by will or by court appointment.

The judge will want to know what qualifications the proposed Guardian has to be able to handle the responsibilities of being a Guardian. Depending upon the ward's needs, the judge may restrict the Guardian's authority.

Guardianship is serious business. A "ward" cannot vote or marry, get a driver's license, buy property, use a credit card or take out a loan.

Once a year, the Guardian must file a report with the Clerk of the Court relating to the ward's physical and mental condition, residence, and whether the need for the Guardianship still exists. A Guardian CANNOT commit the ward to a mental health facility unless the judge has authorized that power in a separate legal proceeding where the ward has been determined to be "gravely disabled".

A Guardian is entitled to be paid by the ward's estate for the reasonable cost of services provided. The fee must be approved by the Court. If the ward has income of over $5,000 annually or owns property that requires management, the judge may appoint a Conservator to take responsibility for the ward's finances. Often the Guardian and the Conservator are the same person.

A Guardian, a ward, or any other interested person may ask the court to stop the Guardianship at any time. The judge will hold a hearing and, if appropriate, discharge the Guardian. If the ward dies, the Guardian must report the death to the Court and ask the Court to discharge the Guardian from further liability.

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Paula Collins
Law Library Resource Center Administrator
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