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Understanding 4 Key areas of Guardianships

On Behalf of | May 31, 2024 | Firm News


The decision to file for a guardianship is often stressful for both the person who intends to become a guardian and for the person who is has lost their ability to care for their own well-being. But, understanding these 4 key areas will help you make better more well-informed decisions. Once you get a handle on what guardianships are, we are here to help you navigate the complexities of the court processes.

Before jumping in, we should understand a couple terms:

Guardian. A guardian is a person who has the care and control of an incapacitated person. Much like a parent would have the care and control over a child.

Ward. A ward is the person who is incapacitated, in need of a guardian to help take care of them.

#1 Types and Purposes of Guardianships.

Although we will list several types of guardships, they are in no way in order of priority. In fact, determining the appropriate type of guardianship should be done in consultation with your attorney as each person’s situation is unique and there are nuances within these types of guardianships that could cause one type to be more appropriate than another type. Reach out to us today to schedule a consultation if you need assistance with establishing a guardianship.

  • Limited Guardianships. Limited guardianships are useful when a person is incapacitated in a specific area in their lives or when the person’s disability is situational. Essentially, the incapacitated person is otherwise mostly capable of handling their lives in a responsible and healthy way, but there could be one to a few areas that they really struggle with, this could be a situation where the limited guardianship is a far more beneficial type than another type as it mostly preserves the ward’s autonomy and ability of self-reliance and independence.
  • Temporary Guardianships. There are two types of temporary guardianships. The first is an Emergency Guardian. An Emergency Guardian is set into place by order of the court in an expedited manner. Since there is either no hearing or a hearing with limited available information, the Emergency Guardian may only be appointed up to 28 days. This allows the Emergency Guardian to help the ward through the immediate emergency. However, given the short duration of the appointment, the court will be seeking to replace the Emergency Guardian with a more permanent option if the emergency converts to a long-term detriment that the ward is unable to manage.
  • The second type of temporary guardianship is called a Temporary Guardian. Temporary Guardians are appointed up to 6 months and are typically put into place when an existing guardian is not performing their duties. The Court will suspend the current serving guardian’s ability to act and appoint a temporary guardian so as not to jeopardize the wards quality of life any further. Again, this only covers the immediate need and a long-term guardian will need to be put into place. However, the Temporary Guardian may become the full guardian under the court’s approval.
  • Full Guardianships. A guardian substantially interferes with the inherent rights of the potential ward and whenever the court appoints a guardian, that guardian has powers and duties over the wards real and personal property, as well as powers over the wards medical and health decisions, and living arrangements.
  • Despite Michigan Law preferring a limited guardianship before granting a full guardianship, attorney’s and petitioners routinely seek a full guardianship mostly out of convenience. The process for seeking and obtaining a guardianship is a bit arduous and can be expensive. As such, to avoid filing a new petition and starting back close to the beginning of the process, most people opt to seek the full guardianship from the very beginning. Doing so puts the responsibility on the ward to raise the issue of a limited guardianship.
  • Guardianship Purposes. No matter what type of guardianship you are looking to implement, the purpose is always the same; to provide a substitute decision maker for certain day-to-day personal decisions. These decisions vary from consenting to medical or other professional care to arranging for the purchase of food, clothing, or other necessities. Some of these other necessities can include handling money, savings accounts, and checking accounts.

#2 The Legal Standard to Establish a Guardianship.

Before a court appoints a proposed guardian for a ward, the evidence must clearly and convincingly show two things: (1) that the proposed ward is incapacitated; and (2) that the appointment of a guardian is necessary to provide ongoing care and supervision.

Here’s what that means. First, a clear and convincing standard is evidence that must convince a judge that the proposed ward is incapacitated. Secondly, incapacitation is a person who cannot understand or make informed decisions due to mental illness, mental deficiency, physical illness or disability, chronic use of drugs, intoxication, or another cause. Basically, the person lacks the ability to make or communicate informed decisions.

In simple terms, a judge must find it highly credible that the proposed ward must be unable to understand and make informed decisions about their own well-being.

#3 Responsibilities of Guardian.

When considering becoming a guardian, the proposed guardian considering taking on this important role has quite a lot to think about and consider. This role is not something that should be entered into lightly because the weight of responsibility and time that is involved.

When a guardian is appointed, they become a fiduciary for the benefit of the ward. This person stands in a position of trust and confidence and is responsible for arranging for the ward’s care, custody, comfort, and maintenance. The guardian is also tasked with the responsibilities of caring for and making decisions on behalf of the ward for their medical care, training, education, restoration of mental faculties and physical health. The guardian may also be required to care for things like the ward’s clothing, furniture, motor vehicles, and any other personal effects. Furthermore, the guardian may also make decisions on living arrangements for the ward and may even have power to manage the ward’s money and property. As such, it is imperative that the guardian keep detailed records of all expenses and income in case they are later questioned about their duties to the ward. To the extent possible, the guardian must be in consultation with the ward before making any major life decision.

#4 Alternatives to Guardianship.

There are alternatives to guardianships that really should be considered prior to seeking a guardianship. In fact, the courts seem to prefer employing use of these alternatives prior to filing for a guardianship.

The first alternative is a financial power of attorney. A financial power of attorney is when a person (known as the “principal”) voluntarily shares their own decision-making authority with an agent. In a guardianship proceeding the ward loses their authority and autonomy to their own well-being. However, when using a financial power of attorney, the principal retains their own right to make decisions and can revoke and change the agent’s authority at any time. This option is typically far more economical both in the amount of time and money it costs to put into place. A person who may be in need of drafting a power of attorney must keep in mind that this option is only available if the principal is competent at the time of execution.

The second alternative is a patient advocate designation. A Patient Advocate or Healthcare Directives is the document that used to appoint another person to provide the care, custody, and medical and mental health treatment decisions on behalf of the Patient. Just like a financial power of attorney, this is a voluntary sharing of decision-making authority. And similar to a financial power of attorney, the patient must be of sound mind to execute this document. As such, if the patient is no longer of sound mind, then this option will no longer be available.

A third alternative, but one used alongside the above two alternatives, is the formation of a living trust. When used properly a trust may avoid the need for a guardian and conservator because when a Grantor (the person forming the trust) funds their living trust, their property is managed by a trustee. This allows the trustee to handle all financial matters and other necessary services that may help avoid the need for a guardianship if the proposed ward does not overtly disagree, object, or fight with care providers.


Guardianships play a vital role in ensuring the well-being and protection of individuals who cannot care for themselves. Understanding the types, purposes, responsibilities, and alternatives to guardianships is essential for anyone involved in this significant legal responsibility. If you have questions or need assistance with a guardianship case, we are here to help. Visit our website to learn more about our services and how we can support you through every step of the guardianship process. Your peace of mind is our priority—reach out to us today.