Everything is suddenly different when a person sustains a catastrophic injury. It’s not just the victim whose life is altered; his or her family and close friends will experience (at varying degrees) the changes that stem from that person’s new needs and possible limitations. When you add a personal injury settlement into the mix, questions will naturally arise about its longevity and finding the most beneficial allocations possible.
Sometimes, the best action to take is to become a legal guardian for a person in this boat, particularly for those who are no longer able to care for themselves. A legally-appointed guardian, often a trusted family member, is responsible for making informed decisions that are in the best interest of the injured individual.
However, making decisions on behalf of someone else can be emotionally and mentally demanding, especially in cases in which an injury has completely altered the way of life for the individual. If you’re considering becoming a loved one’s guardian, take a look below at the basic responsibilities you will most likely take on in this role.
Initial and Ongoing Assessments: At the beginning of the arrangement, the guardian needs to file an inventory of the incapacitated person’s assets. He or she will also need to file an annual report through the office where the original qualification guardianship documents were filed. The purpose of these annual assessments is to determine the necessity for the continuation of the guardianship. Still, in situations in which individuals have suffered a catastrophic injury, it’s likely that the guardianship will continue until the death of the incapacitated individual if the task is handled appropriately.
Guardianship Bond: The court will usually require the guardian to provide a guardianship bond, which acts as insurance against any potential mismanagement of the incapacitated individual’s assets.
Regular Responsibilities: The guardian will be responsible for marshalling, protecting, and obtaining appraisals of the person’s property. He or she will receive income for the estate and make appropriate disbursements. The guardian would also be required to report the status of the estate to the court and obtain court approval prior to selling any assets.
Guardianship of a Person: If the injured individual is a beneficiary of government programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid, his or her guardian must ensure that health care decisions are made in accordance with those programs’ regulations. The incapacitated individual must be allowed to live in the least restrictive environment possible, which in some cases might require movement to an assisted living facility.
Guardianship of an Estate: If appointed the guardian of an estate, the guardian is responsible for managing both real property (real estate, acreage, etc.) and personal property (bank accounts, insurance policies, stocks, bonds, investments, vehicles, etc.). The guardian typically has to open a guardianship account, separate from any property belonging to the guardian, for the deposit of these funds and must maintain a detailed record of any expenditures.
Guardianship is just one option when a person sustains a catastrophic injury and can longer care for himself or herself. Cases should be evaluated on an individual basis, as there are other options that may be a better fit. If you’re exploring options for a loved one, consider speaking with an experienced settlement planner to discuss a plan that will protect his or her assets and government benefits while maintaining the highest possible quality of life.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).