The age of majority in Pennsylvania is 18. This means that at age 18, not only can an individual legally vote and drink alcohol, he or she has the right to make legally binding decisions on his or her own behalf. This is true regardless of whether or not an individual has a disability. However, if a person is unable to make decisions for him or herself as a result of an injury or for any other reason, the court may be petitioned to judge the person to be “incapacitated” and appoint a guardian to make decisions for that person.
Guardianship is usually sought when a person with limited or impaired intellectual functioning needs a guardian to protect the incapacitated person’s well-being or to file a lawsuit on his behalf. The law of Pennsylvania defines an incapacitated person as an adult whose ability to receive and evaluate information effectively and communicate decisions in any way is impaired to such a significant extent that he is partially or totally unable to manage his financial resources or to meet essential requirements for his physical health and safety.
Once a person has been adjudicated incapacitated, a court may appoint a “guardian of the person” and/or a “guardian of the estate” for an incapacitated person who lives in Pennsylvania and/or an incapacitated person who has property in Pennsylvania. Any qualified individual, corporate fiduciary, non-profit corporation or county agency may serve as guardian, with the court’s approval. Often the appointed guardian is a relative of the incapacitated person, however, when no other person is willing or qualified to serve, a guardian support agency may be appointed to the court. The guardian must not have interests that conflict with the incapacitated person. The application to appoint a guardian is referred to as a Petition, which must be filed with the clerk for the Orphan’s Court in the county where the incapacitated person resides. A judge will review the Petition at a hearing where testimony must be presented from an expert who is qualified in evaluating individuals with incapacities.
Many attorneys in Pennsylvania handle guardianship matters before the Orphan’s Courts of the Commonwealth. These attorneys can guide the Petitioner through the process which, although not complicated, may seem overwhelming to a non-lawyer.