America’s population is aging, and an increasing number of families and individuals are facing the question of what happens when someone can no longer manage their personal or financial affairs. Often, the answer is that the court can appoint a guardian who will manage the person’s affairs. This can be a scary prospect both for the person needing the help and the person assuming the guardianship. But there is help available for people dealing with this issue. In the clerk’s office at the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, we have a trust and adoption department that is dedicated to helping people with information about establishing guardianships.
The court is the ultimate guardian of those who are judged to be no longer capable of handling their own affairs, and the court maintains oversight of those it appoints to guardianship duties. Guardians have a tremendous amount of responsibility to ensure individuals have safe living conditions, receive proper medical care, and their money and possessions are handled carefully.
The clerk’s office has a vital role in the oversight of guardians for the court. Guardians are required to file an annual report of guardianship of the person and an annual fiduciary report. These reports are reviewed by the clerk’s office regarding the living situation and care the person is provided and specifically looking for evidence of improper spending of assets. This oversight of guardians is necessary because while most guardians are honestly trying to do the best job they can for those in their care, that is not always the case, and when that does happen, the court has needed to step in.
If you are a prospective guardian, or you are already a guardian looking for guidance, clerks cannot give legal advice, but we can provide resources for information. One of the most popular resources available is a video series from the Maryland courts. This series of five- to 10-minute videos includes “Court-Appointed Guardian Orientation Program,” “Decision-Making for a Disabled Person” and “Abuse, Neglect & Exploitation,” which covers what to do if someone is harming a person you care for. These videos and others can be found on the court website at www.mdcourts.gov/family/guardianship/guardianvideoseries.
The People’s Law Library of Maryland also has free information available on guardianship. It covers topics such as alternatives to guardianship, the guardianship process, and knowing your legal rights if you are the subject of the guardianship proceeding. Information is available at www.peoples-law.org/adult-guardianship.
I hope that you never find yourself in need of a guardian or needing to become a guardian yourself. But if you do, I hope you will remember that you are not alone and there is help available.
Scott Poyer is the clerk of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. The opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the Maryland judiciary.