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Seeking a guardianship for an incapacitated individual

As many District of Columbia residents age, they are afflicted with conditions such as Alzheimer's and dementia, which can diminish their mental capacity. At some point, it may become necessary to seek guardianship of a loved one in order to ensure that the person and his or her finances are protected. Guardianship of an incapacitated individual is sought through the Superior Court of DC Probate Division Court.

In order to prove that an individual lacks the capacity to care for him- or herself, evidence must be presented to the court, indicating that he or she is unable to adequately process information needed to make competent decisions. For instance, a person's decision-making process can deteriorate to the point where a loved one is unwittingly putting him- or herself in physical danger, neglecting his or her health or not managing his or her finances. Under these circumstances, a guardian may need to be appointed to assist with these matters on the incapacitated individual's behalf.

Laws for the District of Columbia outline what constitutes the inability to make financial decisions and what criteria indicate that a person is failing to care for his or her physical needs. Meeting the court's definitions for both financial and physical incapacity will vary from case to case. A thorough review of a particular individual's circumstances by someone familiar with the guardianship requirements may be in order before any papers are filed with the court.

When family members or friends discover that a loved one is no longer capable of caring for him- or herself, it can be distressing. Having the person declared an incapacitated individual and getting a guardianship in place as quickly as possible is often essential. It may be uncomfortable at first to begin the process, but any discomfort is often overshadowed by the needs of the person in jeopardy.

Source: odr.dc.gov, "Legal Guardianship", Nov. 1, 2014

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