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Guardianships in Washington State

At Duncan Law PLLC, we understand that making the decision to pursue guardianship for a loved one can be challenging and emotional. Our Guardianship services are designed to guide you through this complex process with compassion and expertise. This guide aims to answer all your questions about Guardianships in Washington State.

What is a Guardianship?

A guardianship is a legal arrangement in which a court appoints a person (the guardian) to make decisions for another person (the ward) who is determined to be incapacitated and unable to manage their own affairs.

Types of Guardianship in Washington State

  1. Full Guardianship: Covers both personal and financial decisions

  2. Limited Guardianship: Restricted to specific areas of decision-making

  3. Guardianship of the Person: Covers personal and healthcare decisions

  4. Guardianship of the Estate: Covers financial decisions

When is Guardianship Necessary?

Guardianship may be necessary when an individual:

  • Has a mental or physical illness that impairs decision-making

  • Is unable to care for their personal needs or manage their finances

  • Is at risk of harm without assistance

  • Has no less restrictive alternatives in place (e.g., power of attorney)

Who Can Serve as a Guardian in Washington State?

To serve as a guardian, an individual must:

  • Be at least 18 years old

  • Be of sound mind

  • Have no felony convictions

  • Have no unsatisfied civil judgments

  • Complete any training required by the court

Priority is often given to family members, but the court may appoint a professional guardian if necessary.

What is the Process for Establishing Guardianship in Washington?

  1. File a petition with the court

  2. Serve notice to the alleged incapacitated person and interested parties

  3. Court appoints a Guardian ad Litem to investigate

  4. Medical/psychological evaluation of the alleged incapacitated person

  5. Court hearing

  6. If granted, guardian files initial reports and completes required training

What Are the Alternatives to Guardianship?

Less restrictive alternatives to consider include:

  • Power of Attorney

  • Healthcare Directive

  • Representative Payee for government benefits

  • Supported Decision-Making Agreements

  • Trusts

What Are a Guardian's Responsibilities?

Responsibilities vary based on the type of guardianship but may include:

  • Ensuring proper care and living arrangements

  • Making healthcare decisions

  • Managing finances and property

  • Reporting regularly to the court

  • Acting in the ward's best interests

How Long Does Guardianship Last?

Guardianship typically lasts until:

  • The ward regains capacity

  • The ward passes away

  • The guardian is no longer able to serve

  • The court determines guardianship is no longer necessary

Can a Guardianship Be Modified or Terminated?

Yes, guardianship can be modified or terminated if:

  • The ward's condition improves

  • A less restrictive alternative becomes available

  • The guardian is no longer suitable

Any interested party can petition the court for modification or termination.

What Rights Does the Ward Retain?

Even under guardianship, the ward retains certain rights, including:

  • The right to be treated with dignity and respect

  • The right to privacy

  • The right to communicate freely with family, friends, and advocates

  • The right to make certain decisions not assigned to the guardian

How Does the Court Monitor Guardianships?

Guardians must:

  • File initial inventory of the ward's assets (for estate guardianships)

  • Submit annual reports on the ward's condition and finances

  • Seek court approval for certain actions, such as selling property

What Training is Required for Guardians in Washington State?

Lay guardians must complete a training program approved by the Administrative Office of the Courts within 90 days of appointment. Professional guardians have more extensive training requirements.

Can Family Members Be Paid for Serving as Guardians?

Family member guardians can petition the court for reasonable compensation, but it's not automatic. Professional guardians are typically paid from the ward's estate.

What if There's a Dispute About Guardianship?

Disputes can arise over:

  • Whether guardianship is necessary

  • Who should serve as guardian

  • Decisions made by the guardian

These disputes are resolved through court hearings, where all interested parties can present their case.

How Can I Plan to Avoid Guardianship?

To potentially avoid guardianship:

  • Create a comprehensive estate plan

  • Execute a Durable Power of Attorney

  • Prepare an Advance Healthcare Directive

  • Consider setting up a Living Trust

What is Emergency Guardianship?

In urgent situations where an individual is at immediate risk of harm, the court can appoint an emergency guardian for up to 60 days while the full guardianship process is completed.

How Does Guardianship Differ from Conservatorship?

In Washington State, the term "guardianship" covers both personal and financial decision-making. Some states use "conservatorship" to refer specifically to financial management, but Washington uses "guardianship of the estate" for this purpose.

Can a Washington Guardianship Be Transferred to Another State?

Yes, guardianships can be transferred if the ward moves to another state. This involves coordination between the courts in both states.

How Much Does it Cost to Establish Guardianship?

Costs can vary widely depending on the complexity of the case. Expenses may include:

  • Court filing fees

  • Attorney fees

  • Guardian ad Litem fees

  • Medical evaluation costs

In some cases, these costs can be paid from the ward's estate.

How Does Guardianship Affect the Ward's Right to Vote?

In Washington State, being under guardianship does not automatically remove a person's right to vote. The court must specifically find that the person lacks the capacity to vote.

Can a Guardian Make End-of-Life Decisions?

A guardian of the person can make end-of-life decisions, but must follow any existing advance directives and consider the ward's known wishes.

How Does Guardianship Interact with Special Needs Planning?

Guardianship can be an important part of special needs planning, especially for individuals who lack capacity to manage their own affairs. It can work in conjunction with special needs trusts and other planning tools.

What Happens if a Guardian Mismanages the Ward's Affairs?

If a guardian mismanages the ward's affairs, they can be removed by the court and may be held personally liable for any losses. The court can appoint a new guardian.

Can a Ward Contest Their Guardianship?

Yes, a ward can petition the court to end or modify the guardianship if they believe they have regained capacity or that the guardianship is no longer necessary.

Why Choose Duncan Law PLLC for Guardianship Matters?

At Duncan Law PLLC, we offer:

  • Extensive experience in Washington State guardianship law

  • Compassionate guidance through the guardianship process

  • Comprehensive approach considering all alternatives

  • Clear communication and support for families

  • Ongoing assistance with guardianship duties and reporting

Whether you're considering guardianship for a loved one or need assistance with an existing guardianship, we're here to help. Contact us today to discuss your specific situation and explore your options.

Phone: 206-237-7714

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