What does a legal guardian do?

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Q: What are the duties of a legal guardian for elderly parents?

A: The term "legal guardian" has different meanings in different states. I'll take it to mean that your question applies to the duties of a person who was appointed guardian over an incompetent elder by a court. A guardianship is also called a conservatorship in some places. The guardianship can cover either the person's money, or the person's safety and welfare, or both.

The duties of a guardian, generally speaking, are to oversee the welfare and safety the person under guardianship, and to attend to the financial needs of the individual, using his or her assets wisely. A guardian has a legal duty, called a "fiduciary duty", to act in the best interests of the individual. A guardian has total control over the person they are appointed to serve.

They can decide how to spend the elder's money, where the elder will live, what medical care the elder will receive, and how much freedom the elder has in his or her life. The powers can be total. An elder under guardianship loses the freedom to make decisions for himself or herself about all important aspects of life.

The guardian also has a duty to protect the elder from abuse, to keep complete records of all expenditures, and to report regularly to the court which appointed the guardian, as to the elder's finances and status. The requirements vary somewhat from state to state, but generally, the court decides how often the guardian must return to court to report to the court how money is spent and what the status is of the elder. Being a guardian is a very heavy responsibility. It is formal, public and supervised.


Carolyn Rosenblatt is a Registered Nurse and an Attorney, with 40 years of combined experience in her two professions. Read her full biography

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20 Comments

Unless the laws are different in Indiana, there must be a court hearing for your wife's son to get guardianship and a doctor must testify that she is not competent to handle her business in a business like manner along with stating why, plus she will be present during the hearing. The judge will probably ask you why you no longer want to be her POA and then make his ruling. Once her son is awarded guardianship, it trumps POA and you are automatically released from those responsibilities. Are those investments for transfer jointly owned by you and your wife? If so, you might not want her son to have total control of those. Anyway, if it is a jointly own investment, then half of it belongs to you. It will be her son's responsibility to contact those to whom bills need to be paid to let them know that he is her guardian and that he is now the person responsible to make sure her bills are paid. Until guardianship is awarded in Indiana, you will be responsible for paying for those bills at the assisted living place.
louiam, sorry to hear that your mother had to go to the hospital today. If your brother has durable POA,, then his job is to pay her various bills from her money. Have you seen his POA document? Does he also have medical POA? Does your mother have medicare or medicaid? I would think that at this time of night that your brother will answer his phone. Why do you not want him to answer your phone call? Your situation sounds complicated and I wish you well.
R. Frances, I am in the same boat as you are. Just went to see my stepmom in Kansas and her sister who hadn't visiited her for 4 years obtained guardianship and moved her from Montana and put her in a nursing home. She told me my stepmom had "gone through her money" but the court documents say she had $224K on April 17. Where did the money go? I called the courthouse but they told me I would have to contact an attorney and I don't have the money for that.