When a loved one loses the ability to take care of their health or manage their own financial matters, family members often assume that they can quickly step in and be declared as a legal guardian to ensure their loved one is cared for properly. But guardianship is an extreme measure, and for that reason courts view it as a last resort. They are often reluctant to grant guardianship until you’ve proven that there are no other workable alternatives.
Many of those alternatives are simple measures that can be put in place ahead of time so that if a need arises, everyone will be prepared. Unlike guardianship, which strips an individual of their own rights, these alternatives allow the individual to share or retain some control over their personal affairs. Let’s take a look at five alternatives available in Massachusetts.
1. Health care proxy – This document allows you to name an agent who could authorize treatment and make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated and unable to make or communicate your own decisions.
2. Durable power of attorney – With a financial power of attorney, you designate someone to serve as your agent to manage some or all of your financial affairs. You can limit the authority in many ways, such as by only giving your agent access to a single bank account, or you can allow your agent to control everything. This is far better than adding someone to your accounts because you don’t pass an ownership interest in your accounts, so your agent’s creditors will not have access to your money. Your attorney can create a springing power of attorney that only takes effect when a doctor declares you to be incapacitated. Or the power could take effect immediately to allow your agent to help you pay bills and manage accounts. A durable power of attorney can be customized in numerous ways.
3. Representative payee – Programs such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) allow for appointment of a representative payee who can manage an individual’s benefits.
4. Supported decision making – With supported decision making, an individual chooses people to be part of their support network to help them make their own decisions. They do not lose any rights or decision-making power.
5. Shared or delegated educational decision-making authority – A student over the age of 18 can share authority over educational decisions with a parent or other adult. The student can also choose to delegate all authority to another adult, but they can revoke that delegation at any time.
At Jordan & White, LLC, our years of experience with estate planning enable us to help families find the alternatives to guardianship that best fit their needs and goals. If alternatives won’t work in your situation, we can guide you through the legal guardianship process to avoid unnecessary delays or expense.
Contact us today to learn how we can help.