For many people, there comes a point in life where it becomes difficult or impossible to make sound personal decisions. For people with special needs, illnesses that affect mental capacity, and minor children, a guardian may be appointed to make those decisions. When done correctly, a guardianship provides a necessary level of safety and protection for the vulnerable person (called the “ward”).
Unfortunately, there are situations where the guardian abuses his or her power to the detriment of the ward. Elderly people are particularly vulnerable to predatory behavior from people who use their newfound authority to siphon away their assets and leave them worse off than they were on their own. Part of elder planning involves considering who could safely act as a guardian if you were to become incapacitated or incapable of making personal decisions in the future.
People you can trust
The legal process of establishing a guardianship varies from one jurisdiction to the next. The law in some places allows room for unsavory characters. Even devoted family members can find themselves unable to protect their elderly loved ones once a guardianship is in place. It is vital to choose people you can trust, in advance, to act in your best interests when the time comes.
The prospect of turning over financial and personal decision-making to another person should give you pause. It is not something that should be done haphazardly. Guardians have the power to decide where you live, which doctors you see and what becomes of the assets you spent a lifetime building. If your guardian does not act with your best interests in mind, the consequences can be heartbreaking.
Source: The New Yorker, “How The Elderly Lose Their Rights,” by Rachel Aviv, 9 October 2017