A personal guardian, or guardian of the person, is a court-appointed caretaker charged with ensuring the health and well being of another person. The person in need of care, know as a ward, is usually suffering from some mental, physical, or legal incapacity that prevents him from managing his own care. Guardians have a fiduciary duty of care to act in a ward’s best interest, not merely to provide care that is convenient to the guardian.
Guardianship is a protective measure put in place by order of a court when it determines that a person cannot care for himself or protect his own financial interests. The court will typically appoint a guardian when a person is experiencing some mental incapacity, such as Alzheimer’s disease, or a physical disability, such as being hospitalized or in a coma. It will also appoint a guardian when the subject of an action is a minor child and the court determines the child has his own interests that need to be protected.
The court can appoint a guardian to protect a person’s personal interests, financial interests, or both if the circumstances require. A personal guardian is responsible for the personal care of a ward, while an estate guardian is responsible for the ward’s financial affairs. The personal and estate guardians can be the same person if the person is qualified to handle both matters.
A personal guardian has a fiduciary duty of care that requires the guardian to care for the ward in a way that protects the ward’s best interests and would be in line with the ward’s wishes. For example, a person who is appointed as the personal guardian of an elderly parent cannot satisfy his duty of care by merely leaving the parent in a nursing home. The choices made for the parent’s care must evidence the exercise of reasoned discretion in the parent’s best interest, not a decision made for the convenience of the guardian.
Guardianship will remain in effect until the status is terminated by the court, but will end automatically upon the death of either the guardian or the ward. A personal guardian can make a request to the court to resign his duties, but the obligation does not end until the court grants the resignation request and appoints a new guardian. The ward can apply to the court to terminate the guardianship if his capacity to manage his own affairs changes.