People who do not have children or other family members may be vulnerable to some of the pitfalls that may be associated with a guardianship. Proper planning, however, can help avoid problems with guardianships.

Most people would appreciate some assistance should they become incapacitated later in life. Normally, a family member seeking a guardianship or conservatorship must petition a court for appointment. Proof usually must be introduced that the potential ward is mentally or physically competent. Obviously, the person assuming the role of a guardian or conservator must be capable and trustworthy. The United States Senate Special Committee on Aging, however, issued a study on guardianship a few years ago. It found that that there were few safeguards against the abuse, neglect or exploitation of wards. Also, there is insufficient education on appropriate responsible guardianship behavior. Finally, there was no process for restoring the rights of wards if they regain full capacity and this restoration infrequently occurs.

Solo agers may be especially vulnerable to these problems because there is no obvious guardian for them if they become incapacitated. This makes it especially important that they prepare plans and specify who should assist them as a guardian or conservator if they can no longer make decisions. Having an advance health care directive, a health care power-of-attorney and a power of attorney for finances are other important documents that address contingencies.

It is important to consider family members and friends to fulfill these roles because people become vulnerable later in their lives. Working on relationships with nieces, nephews, younger cousins and younger friends is important to do now.

After finding the right person and a couple of backups, a person should have candid conversations with them over guardianships and taking on other legal responsibilities. This helps assure that a person’s wishes and expectations are clearly communicated concerning matters such as end-of-life treatment, guardianship roles and medical treatment. An attorney may present options that address a person’s wishes and concerns. They can also prepare valid documents to meet these needs.