Adult Guardianship is the court-appointed responsibility of an agency to make any combination of informed personal and/or financial decisions on behalf of an individual who has been deemed incapacitated by the court. Decision-making authority is limited by the court order and must be carried out in accordance with state law.
Note: When it is determined that guardianship is necessary, the least restrictive form of guardianship should be chosen given the individualís identified needs, strengths, and supports. Guardians are granted varying degrees of decision-making authority, which generally fall into one of two categories:
- Guardian of the Person: The guardian is granted the authority to make decisions regarding personal matters such as medical, residential, and social service decisions.
- Guardian of the Estate: The guardian is granted authority over the individualís estate or finances.
Total authority to make personal and/or financial decisions on behalf of the individual is known as plenary guardianship; however, guardianship can be as limited as the court sees fit given the individualís assessed capacity. Limited guardianship allows the court to grant decision making authority only over specific areas of the individualís life, and is seen as the preferred form of guardianship as it maximizes his or her right to self-determination. For example, the guardian may have medical decision-making authority, but the individual retains his or her right to make housing decisions.
Note: Throughout this document, the term individual will be used to refer to the incapacitated person or ward for whom the agency is acting as guardian.
Note: Guardianship services are governed by state law and practice can vary dramatically from state to state. The standards below reflect practices that have been associated with improved client outcomes, but should be interpreted within the context of each stateís guardianship law.
The substituted-judgment standard of decision-making requires that the guardian attempt to accurately determine what the individual would have decided if he or she were competent to do so. Substituted judgment allows the guardian to make decisions on behalf of the individual based on the individualís personal beliefs and definitions of well-being. However, it is not always possible to implement substituted judgment as sometimes individualsí preferences could cause harm to themselves or others, their wishes are unknown, or state law or court order mandate a best-interest standard of decision-making. The best-interest standard requires that the guardian make an objective
decision based on broadly held societal beliefs and definitions of well-being. The best-interest standard limits the individualís right to self determination and is only recommended in cases
where the individual has never had capacity to make independent decisions or when there is no reliable way to determine his or her wishes or values.