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What Are Your Rights as a Guardian for Relatives in Nursing Homes During COVID-19?

The susceptibility of the elderly to COVID-19 has raised many concerns among families on how best to care for and support elderly relatives and friends during the pandemic. Of particular concern are those under guardianship and how their unique needs can be addressed.  

What is guardianship?

Guardianship is a court proceeding in which the Probate Court determines that a person is unable to make personal and financial decisions for themselves. In those instances, the court appoints someone else to be the guardian of the person and his/her estate.

Will Probate Court address guardianship issues right now?

While routine motions and status hearings have been postponed, the Probate Court is still available to address guardianship emergencies even as the majority of courts are closed.

Appointing or extending temporary guardianships is an emergency issue. For example, if someone does not have a power of attorney and is unable to make immediate health or financial decisions for themselves, the Court can appoint a temporary guardian to make expeditious decisions before a complete guardianship proceeding can take place. These temporary appointments last for only 60 days but can be extended, particularly given the current pandemic circumstances. 

The court also considers it an emergency if a person’s health is rapidly declining, resulting in the need to place the individual in a living arrangement that is better suited to handle these medical concerns. This is particularly challenging at the moment, as many facilities are currently not accepting new residents. These decisions require prompt attention and warrant the Court’s supervision to proceed.

What else can be done to assist someone under guardianship?

This is a difficult time for guardians and their wards, as in-person contact is so important for the mental health of the individual under care.

Communication is key in caring for an elderly relative or friend under guardianship. Consider contacting a loved one via phone, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, mail and e-mail or by contacting the nurse’s station to monitor his/her well-being. Dropping off care packages and offering to run errands for food and medicine are also helpful and thoughtful ways to stay connected.

Guardianships are established to protect the elderly in need. While in-person visits to facilities are not permitted during social distancing, it is important to remember that alternative methods of communication are available, and that the Probate Court will address any emergency issues.

Peter J. Schmiedel has been a licensed attorney for more than 40 years, and his practice area is focused on guardianship, probate administration and litigation. He represents both individuals, financial institutions and care agencies in complex probate matters, as well as being appointed by the court to serve as guardian ad litem, attorney for Respondents in guardianship proceedings and as Special Administrator.

Amanda B. Puplava has been a licensed attorney for nine years focusing on guardianship, estate planning and probate administration and litigation. Amanda enjoys working with clients on developing effective and efficient solutions to both probate and estate planning matters.