Is a Guardian Legally Required for Someone With Advanced Dementia?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Is a guardian legally required for someone with advanced dementia?

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

No law requires that a guardian be appointed for someone with advanced dementia. Guardianships, also called conservatorships, are usually only needed when someone has good evidence that a person's medical care, finances, or other personal matters are being ignored or mismanaged -- or when there are a lot of feuding family members in the picture. And because setting up an adult guardianship -- which involves both filing legal papers and having a hearing before a judge -- can be time-consuming, expensive, and humiliating to the person involved, it should be undertaken only when necessary.

A better option: Determine if the person already has some basic estate planning documents in place that appoint someone responsible for decision making, such as an advance health care directive and power of attorney for finances that cover the management of personal and financial matters. In most cases, that's all that's needed.