Guardianships: When You Don't Have the Right to Make Bad Decisions
It's hard to ignore Hollywood gossip, particularly when young starlets are in a plunging descent from grace. Recently, Amanda Bynes, a one-time child star, has been spiraling out of control, exhibiting signs that she is suffering from schizophrenia by repeatedly engaging in increasingly bizarre behaviors, which culminated last month when she lit a fire in an elderly woman's driveway. Like Miss Bynes, in 2007, Britney Spears went through a similar series of events, which included shaving her head and lashing out at paparazzi while wielding an umbrella. In both of these cases, these girls were making some very bad decisions, but did they have the right to make these bad decisions? That's a right that we all have, to make bad choices. It's when we no longer understand that our decisions are bad that we lose that right.
Amanda Bynes and Britney Spears, both residents of California, were the subject of conservatorships. In Pennsylvania, we call these 'guardianships'. They both mean the same thing - an individual whose ability to receive and evaluate information is so impaired, such that they are unable to meet their own day-to-day requirements for physical health and safety and someone else needs to be appointed to manage their finances and/or health care needs for them. In other words, the individual who is the subject of a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding no longer has legal capacity, and suffers from some sort of debilitating illness that renders them unable to make decisions for themselves. Generally, we all have the right to make our own bad decisions. When we lack capacity and we no longer understand that our decisions are bad, it's time for the court to step in.
In Pennsylvania, the guardianship process begins by filing a complaint with the local Orphan's Court. The petition states why the person is incapacitated, why they need a guardian and who the guardian will be. A hearing date is assigned after the petition is reviewed by the court. A physician's testimony is required for these proceedings, either by deposition or by the doctor appearing in person at the hearing. Regardless of the method, testimony is taken from the doctor, which will show the court that, according to a medical professional, the alleged incapacitated person is unable, because of a particular condition, to manage their own affairs and care. At the hearing, the petitioner (the person who is requesting the guardianship) and the proposed guardian will testify as to their concerns for the incapacitated person and why the proposed guardian is, in fact, qualified to serve. A guardianship could be contested as to capacity and/or as to who will be the guardian. If the case is contested, at the hearing, the alleged incapacitated person or whoever is contesting the guardianship will present their own witnesses, their own physician's testimony and attempt to illustrate why the alleged incapacitated person is not, in fact, incapacitated. At the hearing, the presiding judge will determine whether the subject of the proceedings lacks capacity and, if they do, the judge will appoint the guardian as well. From then on, the incapacitated person is, by law, unable to make their own decisions - the guardian will do it for them and ensure all of their needs are met.
Guardianship cases can be tough to prove. Taking away someone's right to make their own decisions is a very serious matter and it is treated that way. Guardianship is an excellent path, however, for people who are totally or even partially unable to manage their own affairs. It is great for people, like Amanda Bynes and Britney Spears, who can no longer make good decisions and who are struggling to meet the essential requirements for day-to-day living and care. If you want to know more about Pennsylvania guardianships, please contact McMorrow Law at 724-940-0100 to discuss any concerns you may have. You can also visit our website at www.mcmorrowlaw.com or www.guardianshipinformation.com.