Few of us want a legal guardian. As adults, we only have them when we become so severely physically disabled or mentally incapacitated that we cannot express ourselves or function without the care of others. But life is full of surprises.

So, it is wise to think about who your guardian should be if New York State officially declares you a “ward.” Only the state can appoint your guardian, but if choose ahead of time and make the choice well, you would likely get the guardian you want.

The powers your guardian would have

Most people have a guardian of “person and property,” but two guardians can play those roles separately. Depending on the specifics of their disabilities, some people only have either one or the other.

The guardian of property, as the name suggests, deals with your money, savings, investments and so-called “real property” such as your house. A well-made estate plan would have a big influence over the tasks this guardian would face, and the court needs them to file an annual report.

The guardian of person does not necessarily physically take care of you. The role means that they have the power to make life decisions for you. They generally decide where you live, what medical procedures you have, whether and when you enter hospice and the like.

The qualities New York wants in a guardian

The court goes to great lengths to try to prevent appointing the wrong type of character as someone’s guardian.

The court considers the potential guardian’s relationship with the ward, their qualifications for the tasks they would have to perform, their finances and conflicts of interest.

They also do a thorough background check with fingerprinting to look at the person’s criminal record, any history of sexual offenses or other abuse.

According to the law, however, the default decision is to appoint the person the ward nominated when they were able to do so. If they did not appoint someone, and even if they did, the court still prefers to try to assess the ward’s current opinion about who should be their guardian.