Being someone’s court appointed guardian is a big responsibility. You want to do what is best for your loved one, while still respecting their wishes. This can be a hard balance, especially when it comes to deciding where your loved one will live.

What are a guardian’s responsibilities?

Under Washington law, every guardian of the person has two main responsibilities when it comes to selecting housing:

  • To safeguard a protected person’s health and safety
  • To enable the protected person to exercise his or her rights to the maximum extent under the law, consistent with his or her capacity

Exactly how these responsibilities are executed will depend on the individual circumstances of each particular situation. Generally, the guiding principle is to choose the least restrictive environment that will still keep your loved one safe and healthy, and honor their wishes as much as possible.

In addition, you may feel like you have certain moral responsibilities based on the protected person’s religion, culture or family values. These are important to consider as well.

Is there anything guardians cannot do?

As a guardian of the person, it is your duty to understand the protected person’s care needs, to research the residential options, and do everything you can to implement a care plan. But even as a court appointed guardian, you may not compel a protected person to live somewhere against their will. A person cannot be detained against their will except through a court process under the Involuntary Treatment Act. Under that process, a designated mental health professional must have reasonable cause to believe that the person is suffering from a mental disorder and presents an imminent likelihood of serious harm to himself or others, or is in imminent danger because of being gravely disabled.

Additionally, be aware that there are some medical procedures a guardian of the person cannot consent to without including the court. These include electro-convulsive therapy, psychosurgery, any psychiatric medication or treatment that would restrict freedom of movement, and reproductive surgeries.

Where can I turn if I have questions?

The Washington Courts offer a helpful information portal that can assist you in understanding your rights and responsibilities as a guardian. If that information does not answer your questions, or if you are unsure of what to do next, it can be helpful to consult an experienced elder law attorney for more advice. At Northwest Elder Law Group, we often work with families who are struggling to take care of an elder loved one, especially cases where an elder is resistant to accepting the care that they need.