The basics of elder guardianships

In every part of the nation, the percentage of elderly people is on the rise. The youngest of the baby boomers are now in their sixties and will soon be reaching their seventies. Medical and healthcare advances have contributed to increased lifespans. Together, the combination paints a picture of a likely increase in care for an aging population.

Most people today either have a relative in a nursing home or assisted living center or know someone who does. That number is likely to rise in the coming decades. Census data shows that 8.7 percent of Harris County residents in 2012 were over the age of 65. The state number is 10.9 percent.

A need for guardianships

As part of this trend, the occurrence of dementia, Alzheimer's or other conditions that may render an elderly person incapable of managing their own affairs is also increasing. According to the Alzheimer's Association, one in eight older persons has Alzheimer's. The 2012 data show 5.2 million people over the age of 65 with diagnosed cases of the disease. In addition, an estimated 13.9 percent of people over 71 are thought to have some form of dementia.

While dementia or Alzheimer's are not the only physical conditions that render a person unable to take care of themselves or their lives, they are common ones indeed and they point to the growing need for elder guardianships. The Commission on Law and Aging for the National Center for Elder Abuse reported in 205 that 410.5 new elder guardianships were filed each month in the state of Texas. As the population ages and instances of conditions requiring assistance increases, that number is expected to increase as well.

What is a guardianship?

A guardianship sets up a relationship where one person is identified to protect another who is deemed unable to protect him or herself. The guardian is essentially the protector and the ward essentially the protected. A family member, such as an adult child, can be named an elderly person's guardian but it is also possible for a non-family member or professional to be appointed as a guardian.

Guardianships can cover various aspects of a person's life and can be limited by the court depending upon the circumstances. In extreme situations, a guardian has complete control over virtually every aspect of the ward's affairs including medical decisions, all financial matters, living arrangements and more.

Understand the options

Depending upon the nature of a situation, a full guardianship may be the best way to ensure that an elderly person is properly cared for. However, there can be other options to consider in some circumstances. It is advisable for anyone with concerns about an elderly relative's ability to care for and protect him or herself to contact an attorney for professional advice on the various options. After reviewing the situation, an experienced lawyer will be able to properly advise you on the best direction to pursue.