There are a number of situations in which an adult, known as a "ward," needs someone to look after him or her. In some cases, the need is for his or her physical well-being, while in others the need is more related to overseeing finances. The legal term for the proceeding that appoints someone to look after an adult is an adult guardianship proceeding. In many jurisdictions, the terms "adult guardianship" and "conservatorship" are interchangeable; however, in some cases, an adult guardianship gives someone the authority to make decisions for the ward regarding matters such as medical care or where he or she will live. A conservatorship gives the person control over financial decisions affecting the ward.
An adult guardianship may be needed in a variety of situations. In some cases, a mentally-challenged adult is incapable of caring for herself or himself and is in need of someone to make decisions on his or her behalf. Another situation that often calls for a guardian is when an adult has been injured in an accident and is in a coma or otherwise temporarily incapacitated. Likewise, when an elderly adult suffers from dementia or another condition that affects his or her memory, a guardian may be needed to care for him or her.
Most guardianship proceedings are handled through the county probate court. In order to become an adult guardian, a person must first petition the court. Requirements will vary by jurisdiction, but the petition must usually include the reason that a guardianship is requested and the relationship between the petitioner and the ward, among other information. Evidence of the ward's physical or mental condition that gives rise to the need for a guardian must also be presented to the court. In most cases, the court will conduct a hearing to determine whether the ward is in need of a guardian and, if so, whether or not the petitioner is a suitable candidate.
A person who is appointed to be an adult guardian may have varying degrees of control over the affairs of the ward. The court will determine issues such as whether the guardianship is permanent or temporary and what decisions the guardian may make for the ward. Typically, the court will retain oversight over the guardianship and require periodic reporting by the guardian. When the adult guardianship, or conservatorship, allows the guardian to control the finances of the ward, the court will usually require quarterly or yearly financial reports explaining how the guardian has managed the ward's finances.