Guardianship

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: My mother is quite elderly, and I am concerned that she may be in need of a guardian. More specifically, I am concerned that my brother, who is an alcoholic, is exploiting my mother. I recently found that there are a number of bills that have gone unpaid, and my mother doesn’t seem to know where her money went. Throughout her lifetime, she has been a very competent person, and would have never allowed bills to have gone unpaid, or to have allowed any of us to manipulate and exploit her. It grieves me to think about the possibility of her basic civil rights being taken away, but we’ve got to do something. She still keeps a clean house, bathes, and cooks for herself. Is there some way that she can have a guardian and not lose all her civil rights?
Answer: Your situation is not unique, and it can be a very grievous time for adult children who see the slow deterioration in the mental capacity of a parent. If all family members work together and are able to provide the needed structure, a court-appointed guardian often can be avoided. However, in cases where a parent won’t allow you to help, or where there are family members, or others, who exploit an incapacitated individual, a guardian may be the only recourse.
I do not have statistics for Alaska, or for our region, but the professional literature indicates that frequently when a court orders guardianship, it is full guardianship. That is unfortunate because, as in the case of your mother, she appears to possess the capacity to care for her personal hygiene and maintain a clean and safe living environment, and possibly care for her health and safety, but seems to have lost the capacity to manage her money.
As with most states, the State of Alaska allows for partial guardianship. Anyone, including you, can petition the State for a finding of incapacity and the appointment of a guardian (AS 13.26.105). In the petition, state clearly what you believe your mother’s needs are. The court will schedule a hearing, and a court visitor will be appointed who will schedule an evaluation for your mother.
Medical personnel sometimes recognize the need for a guardian and a physician will recommend a Psychological Evaluation for purpose of determining the extent of the need. If a Psychological Evaluation is completed before the court is petitioned, the evaluation can be submitted along with the petition for guardianship.
In recent years, instruments for assessing the need for a guardian have been developed that allow for the assessment of specific areas such as Memory and Orientation, Managing Money, Managing Home and Transportation, Health and Safety, Social Adjustment, and etc. In this way the court has a better picture of the degree of incapacity when guardianship is considered. Psychologists with advanced training in this area will have the expertise to utilize these instruments, and recommend to the court the need for guardianship limited to specific areas, or full guardianship if necessary.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]