How to get Adult guardianship-Guardianship of your Elderly Parent
As the United States population shifts in age, many adults find themselves caring for both children and parents. Unfortunately, caregivers often have to face the reality of a parent or parents who are no longer able to make decisions and care for themselves. Caregivers must then make the decision as to whether to seek guardianship of the elderly parent or family member.
The question of guardianship is complicated. Not just because of the legal process, but because of the emotional and family issues involved. According the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP, there are approximately 65.7 million individuals (29% of the U.S. adult population) who are caring for someone who is ill, disabled, or aged. The average age of caregivers is 48. Caregivers provide unpaid assistance for a spouse, partner, family member, friend or neighbor to carry out their daily activities or medical needs (from caregiver.org). According to John Hopkins University, the average number of hours provided each week by a caregiver who is between the ages 45-54 is 25.8 hours. About 50% of caregivers are employed full-time.
Beyond the statistics, are the stories of real people struggling to their best for their families. Caring for older, ill, or disabled family members or friends is both challenging and rewarding. For some individuals caring for parents, it is an opportunity for us to give back to our parents some of the care they gave us when we were younger. For those of us who have difficult relationships with parents, the obligation of caring for them can be intertwined with family dynamics that have not been resolved. Siblings can also face having to negotiate the sharing of caregiving tasks and costs. If some adult children live near the parent, while others live far away, this can further complicate the relationships and tasks involved in caregiving.
Sometimes the process of becoming a caregiver is sudden. For example, in one family, the 65 year-old mother, after struggling with what the family thought was a cold, was diagnosed with lung cancer. One sibling lived near the mother, while the other lived 2000 miles away. The sibling living far away had to make a difficult decision as to whether or not to come back home to help care for her dying mother. Very quickly, an independent and active senior needed support and care that required a family member to be with her 24 hours a day. In this family’s case, both siblings were able to provide joint end-of-life care for their mother’s last 4 months. And they had the benefit of not having to establishing legal guardianship for the mother during the time of her illness.
Unlike the situation where a parent or family member suddenly becomes ill, sometimes the decline is slower and steadier. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Families facing Alzheimer’s must contend with the emotional and mental challenges of the disease, while trying to determine the best course of action for their family member. In one fairly typical family, the parents, who still had access to their car, drove 4 hours to another part of the state before becoming lost and disoriented. Two of the adult children had to drive to pick up the parents and the car to bring them home safely. The family made the decision to remove the car from the parents’ home as a preventative measure. This situation is not uncommon among families dealing with a elderly parent with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
For the elderly parents, giving up autonomy and depending on family members, after a lifetime of providing for their children and being independent, can be a life transition that they are not prepared to make. Some parents may fight having to move into an adult child’s home, retirement or nursing home. Or they are reluctant to give up activities that they had previously been able to do. Adult children who are caregivers have to balance the desire of parents to maintain their independence with ensuring the health and safety of their parents.
During our 40s and 50s, we may not be prepared to take on the responsibility of caring for family members. We may have children who are going off to college (or are even younger), our careers may be in full swing, and we face the demands of caring for children and parents at the same time. There may come a time when the situation with elderly family members becomes so difficult that we have to consider guardianship as a way to ensure their health and safety.
In Arizona, the court can appoint a guardian for an adult who cannot make decisions because of mental or physical illness, disability, or alcohol or drug abuse. Arizona law refers to the person as an “incapacitated person.” Once a guardian is appointed, the person becomes a “ward” of the guardian. The guardian becomes responsible for housing, medical care, food, clothing, and social activities. The relationship established between the guardian and the ward is sometimes characterized as being similar to a parent-child relationship. And just as in that relationship, the decisions made for the incapacitated person must be in their best interests. According to the Judicial Branch of Arizona, once an adult becomes a “ward” they cannot vote, marry, get a driver’s license, buy property, use a credit card, or take out a loan.
The process for court appointment of a guardian is outlined in Arizona Revised Statutes 14-5303. The petition will include information necessary for the court to make an informed decision on what will be in the best interests of the individual in question. The incapacitated person can request a guardian or any person interested in their affairs can make a request for guardianship. In the petition you must include a statement that includes what authority the guardian will be granted. Guardianship can be limited or general. When guardianship is limited, you will state what specific powers are requested. You will also state whether or not the guardian can be given authority to withhold or withdraw life sustaining medical treatment. In addition, the court requests a general statement of the property and income of the person for whom guardianship is sought.
According to Arizona law, once a petition for guardianship is filed, the court sets a heading date. The court relies on the written report that will include medical information and a comprehensive assessment listing any functional impairments of the person. This assessment should include information about how the functional impairments may prevent the person from receiving or evaluating information in making decisions or in communicating informed decisions. In addition the report includes information about what daily tasks the individual is capable of performing without direction or with minimal direction. A list of all medications, dosages, and their effects on the person is also part of the report, as well as any prognosis for improvement.
While trying to make the decision to establish guardianship of an elderly, ill, or disabled parent can be painful and stressful, our goal is to do everything we can to make the actual legal process of establishing guardianship as easy as possible. We do more than just complete the forms. We provide complete legal case management document preparation services. We are certified in Arizona as legal document preparers. If you are looking for a Tucson Paralegal to prepare your legal guardianship documents, call us today for your consultation on how to establish guardianship for your elderly parent.