For anyone familiar with the Britney Spears conservatorship case or for those considering pursuing conservatorship (also frequently known as guardianship), one of the most frequently asked questions we hear is, “How long does a guardianship last?” Is it temporary? Is it permanent? And who makes these decisions? We will address these questions and more in this article.
What is Guardianship?
Guardianship refers to a court-appointed individual (or group) responsible for making some or all financial decisions for another person, either a legally defined “disabled person” or a minor – this person may be referred to as a “ward.” This court-appointed individual is known as a conservator or legal guardian and is typically a family member or friend of the ward. However, this is not always the case. The court appoints the conservator or legal guardian to serve on behalf of the court. The court-appointed guardian is required to act in the best interest of the ward. In certain situations, the court may appoint a public guardian, such as an attorney or representative from a local government mental health or social services agency.
The legal guardian acts as an agent of the court, and the guardian’s exact powers and duties are laid out in the court’s Guardianship Order. There are three primary types of conservatorship.
- A Guardian of the Property manages the ward’s financial affairs, which can include day-to-day financial management, income collection (rent, pension, Social Security, etc.), property management, paying taxes, and financial planning.
- A Guardian of the Person is responsible for making decisions regarding the health and well-being of another person. The guardian’s responsibilities and powers can include managing everyday needs, such as the ward’s food, clothing, housing, healthcare, and even social decisions.
- A Guardian of the Person and Property has complete decision-making authority over the ward, managing both their personal and financial affairs. This is why Guardianship of the Person and Property is sometimes referred to as “Full Guardianship.”
A guardianship is most often utilized when a person is unable to care for themselves because of age, disease, or disability.
How is Guardianship Established?
Establishing guardianship is a formal legal process.
- It is initiated when someone files a petition with a Maryland circuit court in the jurisdiction where the “alleged disabled person” resides. The petitioner must be an interested person as defined by Maryland law (Md. Code, Estates and Trusts Article § 13-101).
- Once the petition is filed, the court conducts a hearing where evidence is presented to establish whether conservatorship is necessary. To prove disability, two physicians OR one physician and a psychologist or certified social worker-clinical (LCSW-C) must provide the court verified certificates that describe the medical or psychological diagnoses of the disability (Md. Rules, Title 10, Chapter 200).
- If the court determines the person is disabled, the court will appoint a conservator, most often an interested person, and issue an order setting out the terms and conditions of the appointment (guardianship for the person, property, or both).
How Long Does a Guardianship Last?
A guardianship is usually indefinite – it lasts as long as it is needed. Ultimately, the length of conservatorship is dependent on the court’s opinion as to what’s in the best interests of the ward, but there are a few other ways in which a conservatorship can end.
- The ward may petition the court at any point to end the guardianship if they feel the guardianship is no longer necessary.
- A temporary guardianship typically ends after a set date. The length of this type of conservatorship varies by state, but usually ranges from 60 days to 6 months depending on the individual’s unique situation.
- A guardianship of a person’s estate will end when all assets are used up.
- If the ward dies, the guardianship immediately ends.
- In the case of a minor, the guardianship ends when the individual becomes a legal adult.
Once the guardianship is terminated, the ward is once again in full control of their personal and/or financial decisions.
Interested in Challenging a Guardianship?
If you have been served with an incompetency proceeding and are interested in challenging the petition, PathFinder Law Group can help. Located in Towson, Maryland, we specialize in estate planning, elder law, estate and trust administration, special needs planning and trusts, and guardianship. To contact PathFinder Law Group, please complete our Contact Us form, call (443) 579-4529 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We are here to guide you through life’s milestones in a way that is compassionate and reassuring.