What Is Guardianship?

Guardianship is a civil action by which a court limits the civil rights of a person who has proved to be a danger to himself or others (an “incapacitated person” or “IP”) so that a guardian (makes personal decisions) or conservator (makes financial decisions), appointed by the court, can act in that IP’s best interests, even, under most circumstances, when the IP disagrees about the wisdom or desirability of the guardian’s actions.  Guardianship and conservatorship is controlled by RCW 11.130.

Guardians and conservators act under the continuing control and supervision of the court that issued the order of guardianship.

With respect to the IP’s estate, guardians and conservators, after appointment, must:  1) file an inventory of the IP’s assets and secured debts, 2) file annual reports with the court, which report must identify all property of the guardianship estate as of the last accounting, 2) report any additional property added to the guardianship estate, 3) report any gains or losses or sales or other dispositions of guardianship estate assets, 4) report expenditures of the guardianship estate by categories, 5) report the fair market value of the guardianship estate, how that fair market value was determined, and the amount of the guardian’s bond.    A summary of the contents of the guardian’s or conservator's report must be contained below the caption in a form specified by statute.  The guardian or conservator may be allowed, in small estates, to report as infrequently as every three years.  The  conservator must protect and preserve the guardianship estate, account for its assets, and deliver the conservatorship assets to those entitled to them when the conservatorship ends.  The conservator must follow trustee’s rules of investment of estate funds.

With respect to the IP’s person and medical needs, guardians must file within ninety days after appointment a personal care plan for the IP addressing the IP’s physical, mental, and emotional needs and the IP’s ability to perform activities of daily living.  Annually, the guardian must file a report that includes 1) all residential changes and current address, 2) services the IP receives, 3) medical condition, 4) mental status, 5) changes to the IP’s ability to function, 6) the guardian’s activities in the reporting period, 7) and guardian-recommended changes in the guardian’s authority, and 8) identification of the professionals involved with the IP.  The guardian must assert the IP’s rights and act in her best interests, and provide timely, informed consent for needed medical care.

Guardians do not have power to consent to involuntary mental health commitments, if the IP is unwilling to consent themselves.  Guardians do not have authority to consent to convulsion-producing therapy, psychosurgery, or psychiatric or mental health procedures that restrict the IP’s freedom of movement or mental health treatment rights, except by court order obtained at a hearing at which the IP is represented by counsel.  Mental health treatment rights include the right to:  wear one’s own clothes and use one’s possessions, keep and spend reasonable sums of money, have an individual private storage space, have visitors at reasonable times, have telephone access for confidential calls, have letter writing materials and stamps for uncensored mail, refuse consent to antipsychotic medications or electroconvulsant therapy or surgery (except under court order), and to refuse psychosurgery under any circumstances.  RCW 71.05.217.  Guardians lack authority, except upon court order, to consent to treatment of the IP in any facility against the wishes of the IP.