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How does a guardianship work?

There may come a time in your life when you or a family member may need someone else to make decisions on your behalf. Estate planning can allow you -- or your family members -- to retain control of whom that person will be. Fortunately, even if you have not done any pre-planning, the laws of the District of Columbia allow a guardianship to be ordered to permit someone appointed by the court to handle the financial and medical issues in the event of incapacitation.

Once appointed, the guardian is responsible for making financial and medical decisions on your behalf. The guardian is tasked with making sure that you have access to the quality medical care and education, if needed, that you need. The court will require periodic reports from your guardian to ensure that you are being properly taken care of by that person. These reports include information regarding every aspect of your life and care.

Because the guardian will potentially have such control over your life, the court will attempt to extrapolate from available documents which person you would prefer to occupy this position. If you are available, the court will take your preference into consideration. Most often, the person appointed is a close family member or friend. In addition, the courts take into consideration your ability to make at least some decisions on your own.

Autonomy is important to everyone. Therefore, being a guardian requires sensitivity and a willingness to consult with you -- to the extent possible based on your condition at the time -- before making decisions. This often takes some of the pressure off the guardian who may not always feel confident in the choices he or she faces. A guardianship is there to do as much or as little as you need in the estimation of a District of Columbia court and the person appointed to look out for you based on the physical and/or mental limitations you may end up facing.

Source: FindLaw, "Guardianship of Incapacitated or Disabled Persons", Accessed on Jan. 24, 2015

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