Tarutis & Brunstrom

A Guide to the Guardianship Process in Washington State

Posted by Tarutis & Brunstrom on May 18, 2015

What you need to know to become a legal guardian in the state of Washington.

Guardianships are intended to protect and support the welfare of those whose functional restrictions inhibit them from making their own decisions.

What is a guardian?

A guardian is a person or organization chosen by the court to manage the affairs of another. The person is appointed as a legal guardian and has the legal authority to care for the personal and property possessions their ward. Guardians are generally used in three circumstances: guardianship of an incapacitated elder, guardianship of a minor and guardianship of a developmentally disabled adult.

What is a guardianship?

Guardianship is the management of a person’s affairs who has been found unable to handle his or her own matters. It is a legal relationship between a competent adult and a minor, an incapacitated senior or person who is 18 or older and has a disability which causes incapacity.

A guardian assumes the rights of the minor or incapacitated person to make decisions about their daily life in his or her best interest. 

When is a guardianship necessary?

Guardianship is necessary when impaired judgment or dependence is established by a person’s behavior and poses a significant risk to themselves or others. A complete evaluation by a court designated guardian ad litem is required to determine the incapacity.

What power does the guardian have?

Unless there are limitations set forth by the court, the guardian has virtually total authority over the person’s personal and financial decisions. This includes determining who will take care of the person, how the person’s finances will be handled, where the person will live and making standard medical decisions.

What responsibilities does the guardian have?

The guardian must account for all of the person’s income and expenses made on their behalf. First, the guardian files a record listing the person’s assets and a personal care plan. Then each year a report must be filed with the court itemizing how income and expenses were utilized and an update on the person’s personal care plan.

How does it work?

Guardians are appointed by the court and a guardian is chosen in response to petitions filed in the court.  Any person interested in becoming a guardian may file a petition. The petition requests the court to determine if the person is incapacitated and to appoint a guardian.

Before a Guardianship is decided, there are several steps that must be taken:

  • Notice of the guardianship petition must be delivered to the person named in the petition
  • The court must designate a guardian ad litem to perform an investigation and present the findings to the court
  • The guardian ad litem must attain a statement from a physician or psychiatrist
  • There must be a hearing

Are there any limits to guardianships?

The court can arrange a limited guardianship for people who are capable of taking care of themselves or are able to arrange for their own care, but are limited in other instances.  Guardianships are not supposed to surpass what is necessary to meet the incapacitated person’s needs nor are they financially liable for their preceding debts.

How to choose a guardian

In selecting an individual to act as guardian, first consideration is typically granted to people who are an important part of the person’s life. The guardian should be someone who is cognizant of and sensitive to the needs and wants of the incapacitated person. It is important to understand that the guardianship is an association where the court places a great deal of trust and responsibility in the competence and integrity of the guardian.

How long does the process of guardianship take?

Temporary guardianship usually can be obtained fairly quickly. After a Petition for Guardianship is filed, the court must appoint a guardian ad litem to temporarily act on behalf of the incapacitated person while an investigation is conducted. This process can take as little as two weeks up to a couple months between petitioning and appointment.

What does a guardianship cost?

The cost to begin a guardianship will depend on the court fees, possible medical or psychological evaluations and the attorney fees.

The attorney fees are established based on the amount of time spent. Attorney fees will typically be higher in temporary guardianships and in contested actions because of the amount of time and work that is required.

It is difficult to provide general estimates for services that can fluctuate depending on the circumstances.

Who pays for guardianship?

Once the court has decided to appoint a guardian, they will also determine who will be financially responsible for establishing the guardianship. At this juncture, the court may decide to allow court costs, attorneys' fees and guardian fees to be paid or reimbursed from the incapacitated person's estate.  Guardians are permitted to charge a fee for their services.  When the ward has no money to pay for guardianship services, the county court or social services department may have a policy regarding paying for some of these costs.

Need more information on the process of guardianship?

Establishing Guardianship is a serious and often times complex decision. The attorneys at Tarutis & Brunstrom, PS., can examine your case to determine whether establishing legal guardianship is recommended in your situation and help you determine the best course of action. We also advise and represent individuals who object to the appointment of a guardian.

To learn more about the services we offer in Seattle, Redmond or Bellevue, or to schedule a consultation, please call (206) 223-1515 or fill out our online contact form.