What Is Guardianship and Why Might it Lead to Legal Contests?
Each adult has a fundamental right to make decisions about their life concerning management of their finances, medical decisions, living arrangements, and who they wish to see. However, some individuals may be temporarily or permanently unable to make informed decisions about these aspects of their lives. If no prior written directives are available, family members or others may petition the court to appoint a guardian over the proposed ward’s estate or person to protect them from harm or exploitation and ensure adequate care, health, and well-being.
Appointing a guardian is a significant action because it removes or reduces the ward’s decision-making abilities and limits their rights. It is not uncommon for family members, friends, or the Proposed Ward (the person of concern) to have differing opinions on the necessity of this action, the appropriate scope of the guardianship, or the choice of individual(s) who should be entrusted with this responsibility. These disagreements can lead to emotional and complex guardianship contests. If you are a party in a Texas contested guardianship case, it is vital to speak with a knowledgeable guardianship lawyer who can help you navigate the process and safeguard the well-being of yourself or a loved one.
Who Can Contest a Guardianship?
In Texas, anyone with an interest in the case who disagrees with the appointment or actions of a current or proposed guardian may file a guardianship contest with the court. However, the petitioning party must be prepared to present evidence to support their claims. The proposed Ward will also be given the opportunity to defend themselves in court against the petition. The court has a duty to act in accordance with the best interests of the Proposed Ward and will make its judgment based on the information provided by both sides. Individuals who may commonly be involved in guardianship contests include:
- The proposed ward
- Family members
- Close friends
- The Proposed Ward’s spouse
What Are Some Valid Reasons for Contesting a Guardianship?
A guardianship should be beneficial to the Proposed Ward and not excessively curtail their rights or cause harm to their well-being. If you have concerns about a guardian’s ability to provide quality care or feel that a different arrangement would be better suited to the situation, you should contact an experienced Texas guardianship lawyer to discuss your situation and learn about your legal options. Commonly cited grounds for guardianship contests can include, but are not limited to:
- Lack of need for guardianship: Guardianship is only an appropriate option if the proposed ward is incapable of handling their day-to-day affairs. While it is understandable for family members to want to take legal measures to protect their vulnerable loved one, the ward or others close to them may object to the notion that they are incapacitated. Evaluations by a doctor and other evidence of the proposed ward’s mental and physical capacity are vital to determining whether guardianship may be necessary.
- Unsuitability of a guardian: Guardians shoulder a substantial responsibility and must be able to meet the requirements of their position. The Ward’s preferences are taken into account when choosing a guardian, but the court is not bound by their requests. If at any time the ward or others have concerns about the suitability of a guardian, they can petition the court to prevent their assignment or request to have them removed from the position. A guardian may be deemed unsuitable due to financial concerns, unreliability, lack of training or experience, or other issues that could make them unfit.
- Disputes surrounding the scope or duration of the guardianship: Ideally, a guardianship should be designed to meet the ward’s needs while maintaining the maximum amount of freedom and autonomy appropriate for their situation. Finding this balance can be challenging, and the parties involved may have differing opinions on the proper extent of the guardianship. Conflicts may also arise over whether the guardianship should be permanent or temporary, particularly if the incapacity is caused by an illness or injury and the long-term prognosis is uncertain.
- Accusations of fraud or abuse: Some of the most painful guardianship contests originate with allegations of fraudulent activities or financial, physical, or emotional abuse by the guardian. If the guardian has betrayed the trust placed in them and has neglected their duties, or worse, inflicted harm upon the ward, it is possible to petition the court for their removal.
What Alternatives to Guardianship Exist?
Guardianship should only be explored as a legal remedy of the last resort and only if the individual is unable to make decisions for themselves. It is advised to plan against the need for a legal guardianship well in advance of any signs of incapacity. This can be achieved through a comprehensive estate plan which includes:
- Implementation of money management tools, such as trusts, to limit the potential for financial challenges.
- Drafting Powers of Attorney (POAs) to designate trusted people to handle key money or medical care decisions.
- Creating an official supported decision-making agreement to pave the way for another person to assist with crucial choices in the individual’s life.
These alternatives could help you achieve your goal of protecting your family member while maintaining vital relationships with the Proposed Ward and others who will likely be involved in their care.
How Can an Experienced Lawyer Help You Resolve Your Guardianship Contest?
Every contested guardianship case is unique. Your situation deserves a tailored approach to help ensure you reach a desirable outcome. Our compassionate and helpful legal team at The Hatchett Law Firm can assist you with all aspects of your guardianship contest, whether you choose to seek mediation or litigate your case in court. Our best advice is to create a contingency plan to avoid a guardianship. Contact our law firm today to schedule a free case evaluation: 281-771-0560.