Incapacitated Adults: How do I become a Legal Guardian in Arizona?
Individuals seeking legal guardianship in Arizona do so for a variety of reasons. We have covered some of these topics in previous blogs, such as guardianship of minor children where parents are both deceased. However, there are many more family situations in which legal guardianship may be appropriate for an adult.
One such circumstance is when an adult needs an individual to help care for them by making important life decisions. If you have an adult in your life who may need this level of assistance, then guardianship could be your next best step.
Below is my quick guide on what you need to know about being a legal guardian to an adult and how to get appointed in Arizona.
What Determines Incapacitation?
To make the decisions for another adult, it must first be shown that the individual in question is “incapacitated.”
Legally, incapacitation implies the inability for an individual to make sound decisions on their own behalf due to “mental illness, mental deficiency, mental disorder, physical illness or disability, chronic use of drugs, chronic intoxication or other cause, except minority, to the extent that he lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate responsible decisions concerning his person.” A.R.S. § 14-5101.
Before you are accepted as a guardian, the Court must verify that these conditions are met. This is done by appointing an investigator to your case through the court to speak with both you and the incapacitated individual, as well as having an attorney appointed for the adult and attending a court hearing.
Know Your Responsibilities
When acting as legal guardian for an incapacitated adult, you will assume many of the same responsibilities and expectations that you would by becoming the guardian to a minor child.
For instance, when you appoint a guardian for a minor, the guardian must act in the child’s best interest. Similarly, when appointing a guardian for an incapacitated adult, that guardian must act in the best interest of their “ward,” the incapacitated person. These interests include ensuring medical needs are met, organization of food, housing, and the like.
Two Types of Guardianship
There are two types of adult guardianship for which you can apply: limited and general.
Limited guardianship only covers a limited number of duties for a limited amount of time. This could include arranging living situations for an individual or organizing outpatient counseling. Once the specified duties are complete, the guardianship dissolves.
In general guardianship, the responsibilities are far reaching and the guardian has full control over all decision making aspects of the individual’s life. This includes living situations, social activities, etc. In this sense, general guardianship is much like guardianship of a child where the guardian acts as the legal parent.
Filing Time: The Petition
Guardianship proceedings are put through the Arizona Probate Court. You must file a petition, which outlines information needed by the Court to determine whether guardianship is in the best interest of your prospective ward.
The person seeking guardianship status may already hold power of attorney for the individual, be a personally interested individual, or even a family member. If unable to act as guardian themselves, these individuals can nominate another person or fiduciary to carry out the guardianship.
After Filing the Petition
There is a required 45 day delay between the initial filing of your petition and your court hearing. During this time, several steps take place preceding guardian appointment.
Among them, you will need to complete “guardianship training” and have the adult prospective ward served via a process server. While these steps are simple, they are necessary to become a guardian in Arizona.
Finally, you and your prospective ward will meet with an appointed court investigator who makes sure that the guardianship is truly in your ward’s best interest.
If the court determines you are an appropriate guardian, you will be appointed through court order. This legally gives you the responsibilities outlined as part of your guardianship duties.
Seeking Legal Advice
Many individuals are uncomfortable when dealing directly with the Court system, especially when it involves the care of a loved one. In these cases, an attorney such as myself can help with compiling the necessary paperwork to make your path to guardianship as simple as possible. I am available to answer all of your questions and allay your fears.
If you would like to discuss your options and timeline for becoming a legal guardian, please reach out to me at 602-996-4076 or, preferably, emailing the office at [email protected] today.