The U.S. Office of Aging reported that by the year 2050, the average life expectancy will be 92 years for women and 90 years for men - approximately double what it was at the beginning of the twentieth century. Thus, in the decades to come, a larger percentage of people may require specialized care as they grow older and live longer.
According to Patricia Maisano, president of IKOR Quality Care Consultants, a provider of services for caregivers, the dilemma of how to help older people will intensify. Ms. Maisano has observed several trends developing among elderly people as they move to retirement areas:
In order for a caregiver to be legally permitted to make decisions for an incapacitated family member, he or she must petition the court to be appointed guardian of the disabled individual (or ward). Guardianship is approved for persons who are declared incompetent to make informed decisions, provide for themselves, or manage their affairs. Each individual's situation is unique. The Court gives a guardian the right to make certain decisions on behalf of the ward, imposing only those conditions that are necessary to ensure the ward's well being. Guardians may be authorized to make decisions such as:
A petitioner may request a specific individual or professional service to serve as guardian, or the court may appoint an individual or firm located within the area. Companies providing professional guardianship service can offer an objective voice and become a liaison between family members. They are generally insured and bonded, and their hourly rates vary by the type of assistance required. In addition, the court must approve all invoices for their services.
Guardianship involves taking away an individual's rights. Therefore, it should be pursued only after less restrictive actions have been considered, such as appointing a power of attorney to make specific decisions or a representative payee to handle benefit checks.
Planning for incapacity before the condition develops by executing Power of Attorney documents is the best way for a person to avoid the possibility of a court-appointed guardianship. One may appoint a Durable Power of Attorney to attend to his or her finances should he or she become disabled due to injury or illness, and a Medical Power of Attorney to make medical decisions in the event that he or she is unable to do so.
Updated: January 1, 2013
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© 2013 Wilmington Trust Corporation.