What do you do if you believe a family member or a friend has become unable to care for themselves or their finances? This is a very stressful and troubling question that, unfortunately, many people end up asking themselves.

In some instances, the individual has an estate plan in place. This might include a power of attorney, or other directive, that indicates who will make important decisions for the individual in the event that they are unable to do so. Sometimes, there is no estate plan, but the individual does not have the capacity to execute estate planning documents, including a power of attorney. All is not lost.

Pennsylvania courts have the authority to appoint a guardian to care for a person that the court determines is incapacitated. Generally speaking, a person is incapacitated when they lack the ability to care for and/or make decisions for themselves. A guardian can be an individual, agency, or entity. The guardian can be appointed to be responsible for the individual’s physical health and safety (a guardian of the person) and/or to manage the individual’s finances (a guardian of the estate).

In order for you to be appointed as a guardian, or to have someone else appointed as a guardian, a petition must be filed with the court. Petitions can be filed on an emergency basis if circumstances require the appointment of a temporary guardian.

In all cases, a hearing will be held before a judge who will determine whether the individual is incapacitated, and whether a guardian should be appointed. Once appointed, the guardian will have the legal authority and duty to assist the incapacitated person with their daily activities and making financial decisions.