Insights from a Professional Guardian
by Karen Fonville, LMSW, TxCG
Private Professional Guardians are professionals with experience in the issues related to guardianship and have met their states credentialing requirements for certification. For the purposes of this newsletter, the issues discussed address only guardianships that are created in a Probate Court which has jurisdiction over adults, not minors. Guardianships may be created to address an individual’s estate only, their person only, or a combination of both. Family guardians are always sought to be appointed before a private professional guardian is ever considered. There are a multitude of reasons why a family cannot be appointed as a guardian. At that point a private professional may be considered for service to the individual ward.
The whole process is foreign for most people. Here are a few behind the scenes issues that the private professional guardian encounters.
The Interloper-Jumping Into the Fray
Private professional guardians are quite literally injected into the ward’s world. Due to the nature of the wards’ incapacity, they are typically confused and troubled about the recent circumstances that brought them to court. Typically the ward is feeling helpless on some level. If the ward has family members that did not or could not qualify as guardians, then often times the family is angry, possibly mistrusting of the new guardian, and they resent the circumstances as well.
Private professional guardians are appointed to bring order, safety, help, and well-being to the ward. But, guardian must act quickly. In some cases the guardian must move the ward to a new and more appropriate location, secure the funds, notify services of the “new world order”, and make decisions on personal matters. This swift movement doesn’t necessarily feel like help and it doesn’t feel safe to the new ward. Once the tasks of meeting the ward’s basic needs are met, the professional guardian can begin the work of establishing a relationship. If there are still involved family members, the guardian encourages their continued visits and works to promote healthy relationships, if the ward desires. This process looks different every time!
One Size Does Not Fit All
There is no cookie cutter guardianship for private professional guardians. Each ward is an individual with different pasts, different life styles and different needs. A professional guardian may care for a 41 year-old in a state institution for intellectually disabled and a 90 year old who can pay for a private room in a nursing home.
Significant changes have been enacted by the Texas Legislature just recently recognizing the need for more structured “person-centered” guardianships. A new Bill of Rights for Wards is also included in the Estates code with additional requirements for guardians to communicate their wards rights annually. For example wards are to be given a copy of the guardianship order and letters of guardianship with additional contact information for the probate court that issued the orders making their access to the court more direct. They should be informed of the contact information for any of the following that apply: a local independent living center, an area agency on aging, a disability resource center, a local mental health center, and be given the opportunity to communicate with representatives with these agencies. The private professional guardian must be able to demonstrate their best efforts to promote self-determination and well-being for all of their vastly different wards.
The Swirling Pool of Governmental Agencies
Private professional guardians must stay current with area government, state, and area resources. There are times when an individual is eligible both for VA services and health benefits through Medicare, but the task of knowing which to use when or how to use them effectively is rather tricky. For example, a guardian would need to discern between receiving physical therapy benefits in a nursing home under the Medicare benefit or the VA benefit. The diagnosis and physical therapy team, as well as any case managers on board need to be involved in the conversation before the benefits are initiated. The professional guardian needs to have a working knowledge of housing options, care options and their estimated costs. It is the guardian of the person’s job to find the care and services available and within the ward’s means. Medicare guidelines are ever-changing. Supervised living facilities change their focus regarding the care they will or will not provide. Group homes condense, change ownership, and close. The professional guardian stays informed and is ever exploring options.
Guardians of Different Flavors
Individual private professional guardians may choose to concentrate on guardianship of the estates only, guardianship of the person only, or they may choose to address both if the court recognizes this as a good arrangement for a particular guardianship. Guardianships may also be crafted to include a trust officer as the estate manager in combination with a guardian of the person. Similar to other professions that have specialties, and then sub-specialties, Guardians of the Person may choose to specialize in taking specialty cases. For example, a Guardian of the Person may do their best work with individuals who are intellectually disabled. This group’s services and qualifications for services looks completely different from those of an adult who is incapacitated due to a stroke. Once the guardianship is in place and the basic needs of health and safety are met, the Guardian of the Person (GOP) begins the process of learning all there is to know about the new ward with a person-centered approach. A GOP will interview family and read as much documentation as is necessary to understand the individual’s health history, mental health history, documentation that may include end of life opinions, former occupations, relationships, and likes and dislikes.
According to the Standards of Practice from the National Guardianship Association the Guardian of the Person is responsible for, but not necessarily limited to the individual’s:
- Physical, social, and educational setting that meets their needs and preferences
- Communication with family, friends, services, and resources
- Identification of the individuals goals
- Promoting, monitoring, and maintaining the health and well-being of the person
- Ensuring appropriate medical services
- Understanding health care options and making medical decisions based on risks and benefits
- Advocating for the wards rights
- Developing a care plan
- Supervision of visitations if necessary
A Guardian of the Person is on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The probate judges in Tarrant County are ultimately responsible for appointing a private professional guardian. Attorneys involved in a particular case typically make a recommendation to the court regarding a private professional guardian. Factors considered in hiring a private professional would likely be: the individual’s estate, the guardian’s expertise, training, education, experience, and conditions of the work. Both judges in Tarrant County are strong advocates for their wards and they take seriously their duties to oversee all guardians.
For further information about adult guardianships and a list of Certified Guardians in Texas check out the Texas Guardianship Association’s website at www.texasguardianship.org or the National Guardianship Association at www.guardianship.org.
Karen Fonville received her bachelor of Social Work from Harding University and her Master of Social Work from UTA. She has been a practicing social worker for 20+ years. Her professional work has been focused on the vulnerable elderly, adult intellectually disabled, family dynamics, and geriatric care. She saw first -hand the need for qualified private professional guardians in Tarrant County. In 2012 Karen began taking clients as a Texas Certified Guardian. Her focus is on Guardianships of the Person. She also continues to conduct psychosocial assessments with recommendations and provides case management for trust officers.
If you would like further information or assistance with pursuing a guardianship over an adult or child, please contact Bedford Estate Planning and Elder Law Attorney, Antoinette Bone, at (817) 462-5454 or email [email protected].