Guardianship of an adult is a very serious decision, as it takes away that person’s liberty and autonomy. Guardianship can be full or limited. Full guardianship gives the guardian the right to make all personal and health decisions for the incapacitated person. Limited guardianship gives the guardian specific powers, according to the areas of life in which the individual is incompetent to make decisions. Family attorney Karen Lane can help you decide if guardianship is the right choice for your adult child or loved one, or if another alternative would be more appropriate.

Guardianship vs. Conservatorship

A guardian makes personal and medical decisions, while a conservator makes financial decisions and manages the incapacitated individual’s assets. The same person can be designated both guardian and conservator, but in many cases a different person, or even a bank, may be appointed as the conservator.

Who Needs a Guardian?

Adult guardianship is for people who are incapacitated by a medical condition, such as:

  • Alzheimer’s or dementia
  • Brain injury
  • Mental illness
  • Serious physical impairment
  • Developmental or intellectual disability

Situations in which guardianship is often sought include:

  • When a person has been injured and does not have a medical power of attorney
  • When a minor child with a disability is turning 18
  • When an older loved one with dementia is no longer safe
  • When chronic illness or disability affects a person’s ability to communicate or make decisions
  • When brain injury or a mental health problem render a person unsafe, or unable to make healthcare decisions

Guardianship is a Serious Decision

Guardianship takes away a person’s liberty and autonomy. It should not be considered lightly. Full guardianship is rarely appropriate. Limited guardianship is customized to meet the person’s needs while infringing on their freedom as little as possible.

Massachusetts's guardianship law aims to maximize independence and self-reliance and requires guardians to consider the individual’s wishes when making decisions, as well as encouraging the incapacitated person to participate in decision making and trying to help them progress to the point where guardianship is no longer necessary.

Guardianship of an adult is a big responsibility and can be a difficult job. Often families may disagree over whom should be appointed as a guardian or as co-guardians. In other cases, especially in cases of mentally ill or intellectually disabled adult children, parents often feel caught in the role of being the "bad guy" when faced with making a very difficult and heart wrenching decision. In this situation, a neutral party or professional guardian can be appointed by the Court, ensuring that the parent’s relationship with their adult child remains as a loving parent.

Guardianship of Young Adults: When Your Mentally Ill or Intellectually Challenged Child Turns 18

It is natural for parents of a child with intellectual disabilities and/or who suffers from a mental illness, to be very concerned about their child’s welfare when they turn 18. On a child's eighteenth birthday, they are legally considered an adult with all the rights and responsibilities of an adult (and will now have privacy protections under the law which can prevent parents from doing certain things on their behalf). What does this mean?
While guardianship for an adult child is possible, the court must deem that the child truly meets the standards of being incapacitated, which is typically a stricter standard than what many parents would agree with.

Guardianship Attorney Karen Lane is based in the Natick/Framingham area and represents clients, in her capacity to file a Petition for Guardianship or Conservatorship or as a professional Guardian or Conservator, throughout metro suburban Boston in Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Worcester, and Essex counties. To learn more about guardianship, please call Attorney Karen Lane at 508-655-5513 or contact her online today to schedule your free initial consultation.

Click the topics below for additional details about Attorney Karen Lane’s specific areas of practice related to guardianship and conservatorship.

Guardianship takes away a person's autonomy and liberty. When planning is done in advance before there is a crisis in which a guardianship may be necessary, there are alternatives to guardianship that provide both peace of mind and enable family members and loved ones to retain their dignity and autonomy.

In Massachusetts, every person who is eighteen years old or older is presumed competent unless proven otherwise. Every competent adult has the right to make healthcare decisions for themselves and to appoint a trusted person, be it a family member or friend, as their Health Care Agent to make medical decisions on their behalf should they become temporarily or permanently incapacitated and are unable to make medical decisions for themselves.

This trusted Health Care Agent—who is selected personally by the adult in question—is designated via a Health Care Proxy. A Health Care Proxy is considered one alternative to Guardianship, as the legal right to make medical decisions only transfers to the Health Care Agent should the person in question become incapacitated and is unable to express his or her wishes concerning healthcare decisions. Should a person become incapacitated and not have a Health Care Proxy in place that designates a Health Care Agent, the Probate Court has the power to appoint a Guardian, who may be a stranger, to make medical decisions on that person's behalf.

Parents of mildly or moderately intellectually challenged adult children, or of adult children who suffer from a mental illness, should consider having a having a psychiatrist or psychologist evaluate their adult child’s competency to make informed medical decisions. Should the adult child be found competent to make informed medical decisions, they can sign a Health Care Proxy and designate a Health Care Agent as an alternative to Guardianship.

Your Health Care Proxy and/or Health Care Agent may be changed, amended, or revoked at any time, as long as you are competent to do so.

An Advanced Directive generally refers to a written plan that communicates your instructions for future health care choices in case you become incapacitated and are unable to communicate these instructions yourself. Advanced Directives often state a person’s preferences regarding cardiopulmonary resuscitation, intubation and ventilation, the use of artificial nutrition and hydration, care and comfort measures, other types of medical decisions, and end-of-life care.

Guardianship attorney Karen D. Lane’s office is located in the town of Sherborn, which is centrally located in Middlesex County, 3.3 miles directly south of the Mass Pike, on the Natick/Framingham town lines. She represents clients throughout metro-suburban Boston in Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Worcester, and Essex counties. Please call attorney Karen D. Lane at 508-655-5513 or contact her online today to schedule your free initial consultation and learn more about guardianship and the alternatives to guardianship and how she can help you with individualized and affordable legal representation tailored to your indvidual needs!