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Guardianship is a legal relationship whereby the court appoints a person (the guardian) the power to make personal decisions for another (the ward or protectee).

A family member, nursing home, or area agency on aging initiates the proceedings by filing a petition in the orphans’ court in the county where the individual resides. A medical examination by a licensed physician is necessary to establish the condition of the individual.

If a court of law determines the individual is unable to manage his or her financial resources and meet the essential requirements for his or her health and safety, the court may appoint a guardian to make financial and personal decisions for the individual. Unless limited by the court, the guardian has the same rights, powers, and duties over the ward as parents have over their minor children. The guardian is required to report to the court on an annual basis.

What is the Difference between a Power of Attorney and a Guardianship?

A power of attorney is a relatively low cost and private way to decide which family member or trusted friend will have the legal authority to carry out your wishes if you can no longer act for yourself.

If you do not have a power of attorney or if your power of attorney is not drafted properly, and something happens that results in your inability to make decisions, your family/friends may face court proceedings and a court supervised guardianship. A court proceeding is not only costly, but the person appointed as your guardian may not be the person whom you would have chosen yourself.

To learn more about guardianship in your state and/or to make sure that you have a proper Power of Attorney, consult a local elder law attorney.