If you recently noticed that your parent is having difficulties caring for himself or herself, you may be wondering if it is the right time to seek guardianship. Unfortunately, the answer is not always straightforward.

A guardianship would legally allow you to act in your parent’s best interests and take responsibility for his or her personal affairs. However, your parent must be considered legally incompetent for a guardianship to be awarded.

Signs that it may be necessary to seek guardianship

Your parent may need help caring for himself or herself if you notice any of the following:

  • Your parent does not wear appropriate clothing for the weather
  • Your parent cannot remember if he or she already had a meal
  • Your parent is not maintaining personal care, such as bathing
  • Your parent is regularly missing appointments, such as medical appointments
  • Your parent exhibits disorientation, memory loss or behavioral changes compared to last year

Keep in mind that because guardianship takes away your parent’s right to make his or her own decisions, it is usually only considered if other, less restrictive options are not appropriate. In court, you may need to prove that your parent is no longer competent to make his or her own decisions. It may be necessary to provide the court with medical or psychiatric testimony about your parent’s condition and abilities. It may also be necessary to ask your parent’s friends, family members and service workers to testify about your parent’s self-endangering behavior.

Responsibilities you may have as a guardian

If a court appoints you as the guardian for your parent, it will determine what responsibilities are appropriate for you to have. However, some of those responsibilities could include making decisions about:

  • How your parent’s care will be provided
  • What treatment your parent will receive
  • Where your parent will live

Although you would have the right to make decisions about your parent’s personal life and affairs, you would still be responsible for encouraging your parent to participate in decision-making and considering his or her wishes. Also, some decisions, such as moving your parent to another state, will require the court’s approval. Unless you are also appointed as conservator, you will not be responsible for managing your parent’s assets or making financial decisions.

Deciding to seek guardianship or not is ultimately a personal decision. However, in certain circumstances, guardianship is the best way to protect an aging parent.