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Washington state government struggles with public guardianship

Under Washington law, a guardian can make important decisions for those who can't make them on their own. Among these decisions are educational choices, whether to consent to medical treatment and managing finances. Parents are more or less automatically considered the guardians of their minor children, but a court must appoint a guardian when parents have died or when individuals are incapacitated by mental illness or dementia.

Generally, the court appoints a close relative or friend who has offered to take on guardianship duties, but when no such person is available the court may have to appoint a state employee. Unfortunately, Washington's funding of public guardians - which was already low - has been hit with a 50 percent budget cut. The program has been forced to stop accepting new wards and is trying to move current wards to private guardians.

It's important to consider guardianship arrangements in estate and long-term care planning. Individuals can execute a living will to appoint someone to make decisions for them should they become incapacitated. Parents of minor children should appoint a guardian for their children in their wills.

The process of setting up a guardianship can raise very difficult issues of autonomy and freedom, perhaps especially when the ward is an adult. It's no small thing to give one individual legal authority over another person. When there is a disagreement about a guardianship, the dispute can get very nasty very quickly, leading to large expenses and hurt feelings within a family. A Washington attorney with experience in guardianship issues can help people to avoid these disputes or to handle them effectively when they arise.

Source: News-Tribune, "Promise we made to the incapacitated must be kept," Dennis Mahar, March6, 2014

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