Alternatives to Senior Guardianships
Guardianship requires seniors to give up a significant portion of their freedom and independence, which, while may be necessary, can have considerable drawbacks. To avoid the negative effects of full guardianship on older adults, many states prohibit the use of guardianship until several less-restrictive alternatives have been attempted.
A representative payee has much less authority than a guardian, and the individual they are standing in for has not been legally declared incompetent. Like a guardian, a representative payee oversees something that belongs to the individual. However, guardians are in charge of almost everything for their wards, while a representative payee is responsible for receiving one specific Social Security or Supplemental Income on the senior’s behalf.
FYI: Representative payees can be a key component of your estate plan. To learn more, read our guide to estate planning.
Power of Attorney
One of the most simple alternatives to guardianship is the power of attorney. Guardianship and power of attorney provide seniors with similar levels of supervision. However, with power of attorney, a senior and their family select a person of their choice to serve as the older adult’s decision-making agent. If guardianship is selected, familIes may request a specific guardian, but ultimately the judge decides who serves as guardian. Sometimes families choose to pursue guardianship after their older loved one refuses to sign over their power of attorney.
Some states allow seniors to designate someone as a standby guardian in case they lose the ability to care for themselves. However, traditional guardianship differs from standby guardianship in that the senior must freely consent to the agreement, and the guardianship only takes effect if the senior becomes incapacitated.
Another alternative to guardianship is a trust that benefits the senior and names a trustworthy family, friend, or attorney (or yourself) as the trustee. While the trustee technically owns the transferred property, they are legally obligated to manage the trust assets responsibly for the beneficiary, which in this case, would be the senior. Seniors can also retain some autonomy by listing themselves as co-trustee. For example, you can make sure money is set aside and invested well. Then the senior you’re concerned about can be given an allowance to limit any risky financial behavior.