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What are a guardian's duties?

In Washington, guardians may be appointed to assist and protect a person who is legally unable to manage their own affairs because of an incapacity. Guardians are placed in a high position of trust and owe the greatest duty of care to that incapacitated person.

Washington has three types of guardianships. A professional guardian is court-appointed, cannot be a member of the incapacitated person's family and charges fees and carries out these duties for at least three people. A public guardian is a professional guardian who provides these services for the Office of Public Guardianship when no one else can serve as guardian. A lay guardian is a member of the incapacitated person's family.

Because of their fiduciary duty responsibilities, guardians cannot engage in conflicts of interest where their independent judgment to act upon another person's behalf would be compromised. They must do their best to fully disclose their decisions and actions so that the incapacitated individual can understand these actions as best as possible.

Guardians must use the substituted judgment standard, which requires that a decision best reflects what the incapacitated person would do if they had the capacity to act. When this preference cannot be determined, the guardian must always act in the persons' best interest and include any preferences that the incapacitated person shared.

Guardians must appropriately communicate with the incapacitated person, that person's family, the court and other professionals. They should provide written reports, letters, emails and engage in oral presentations and informal conversations.

Guardians may have responsibilities or guardianship over the person. These include confirming that appropriate health and mental care services are provided, ensuring that the person lives in an appropriate residential setting and providing consent for health care services. They must submit reports on the incapacitated person's status to the court.

A guardian of the estate has authority over the incapacitated person's property. They manage financial affairs such as contracting and incurring obligations, being a representative payee of Social Security or other income, paying medical expenses, applying for government assistance, arranging funeral plans and seeking court approval for real estate sales.

An attorney can assist with setting up a guardianship that assures that the person's affairs are properly handled. A lawyer may help determine that these arrangements do not cause disputes and that a guardian is selected who can competently and honestly perform these duties.

Source: Washington Courts, "About the Guardianship Process," Accessed March 21, 2017

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