Understanding Guardianship Laws in Pennsylvania
Guardianship is a serious matter that Pennsylvania courts don’t take lightly. That’s because it involves taking away rights from the person who needs the guardian. Understanding how guardianship works in Pennsylvania can help you determine if that’s the best course of action and what it takes to obtain it.
Who Is Guardianship For?
There are two categories of people for whom guardianship may be necessary: Minors under 18 whose parents are no longer living and adults who are mentally incapacitated in some way, whether temporarily or permanently. The latter could include people with progressing dementia who can no longer safely manage their lives or people who have been in a car accident with temporary cognitive issues. Minors who turn 18 and people whose temporary mental incapacity is resolved can be released from guardianship.
Within Pennsylvania law
Because it is a serious concern for the courts, Pennsylvania guardianship laws provide alternatives to guardianship. The goal of the courts is to see people retain their rights rather than lose them, so guardianship should be a last resort. Families or loved ones should consider the possibility of creating a funding a trust for the incapacitated person, filing for power of attorney (especially helpful to do before someone becomes incapacitated, so once that happens, a power of attorney is already in place and ready to be activated), or discuss whether or not the family can manage with their own resources. Pennsylvania courts will want to know that these have been considered and if they don’t work, why they don’t work. If none of these things are feasible or won’t suffice, it could be time to consider guardianship.
Becoming a Guardian in Pennsylvania
Several different entities can apply for guardianship under Pennsylvania law. Those include qualified individuals, nonprofits, county agencies, guardianship agencies, and corporate fiduciaries.
The courts can reject applications from guardians it deems inappropriate or has conflicts of interest. The court may also appoint a guardianship agency if no one steps up to become a guardian for a person who’s been medically diagnosed as needing one.
The first step is to file a petition in a Pennsylvania county court. That must include a sworn statement from a physician or psychologist who can explain why the incapacitated person needs a guardian. That statement needs to be heavily detailed. The court will issue a preliminary decree and set a hearing date, at which time the court will decide if the person is indeed incapacitated and if a guardian is needed. Then the court will determine who or which agency should become a guardian.
Let Me Advise You
If you or someone you know needs more information and assistance in guardianship matters, call me at 610-718-6368.