Many elderly and aging parents continue caring for themselves, either independently or with minimal help, as they get older. Others find dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or other illnesses prevent them from making appropriate decisions for themselves.

Making the decision to appoint a guardian for an elder family member is a tough decision, especially when arrangements weren’t made in advance. Family members may not have the mental capacity to decide whom he or she wants as a caregiver or who would be the best person to appoint.

With diminished mental capacity, elders are easily swayed into making the wrong decision, may suggest a different person daily, may not remember the conversation or may not even understand what is happening or what any of it means. This makes it necessary for other family members to decide together, or with the help of an elder law attorney, who to appoint as the guardian.

A guardian is appointed to make financial, medical and estate decisions for an elderly, disabled or mentally incapable person. Guardianships may be made prior to the elders incapacitation and with their consent or without consent when they are no longer able to give it. Choosing the right person to take over guardianship is essential since that person will be making all medical and financial decisions.

Ideally, the elder family member’s wishes should be honored as much as possible. However, just because someone is a close relative doesn’t mean they are the best choice for guardianship. A guardian should be physically, mentally and financially able to make any decision necessary that serves the best interest of the elder.

Once a family member is agreed upon to assume guardianship, a GAL (guardian ad litem) is assigned to meet with the family members and help the court determine if the chosen family member is appropriate for the role. The GALs recommendation for or against the chosen guardian helps the courts determine if the guardian is in the best interest of the elder.

In cases where family members are unable to agree upon a guardian or the court determines the chosen guardian is not a suitable choice, working together with an elder law attorney and the GAL is essential. Making the decision to appoint a guardian for loved one isn’t easy but by working together with a supportive team, family members can be sure their loved one’s wishes and best interest is a top priority.