Delaware Adult Guardianships

People – especially seniors – who need help are often afraid that they will lose all control over their lives.  This is why we emphasize the importance of having a valid durable power of attorney and advance health care directive – these documents give your loved one the power to make the decisions as to who should help them and in what circumstances their agents should have authority.  Without these in place, a legal guardianship will need to be created to help your loved one.   

There are many situations in which someone must be appointed legal guardian (or conservator, in some states) to protect, support, and assist a loved one when they cannot manage their own finances or make medical decisions.  Here are a few examples of people who need a legal guardian:  

  • Someone who develops an illness affecting their cognitive abilities (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, psychiatric disorders, or other illnesses) and who does not have an effective power of attorney or advance health care directive  

  • A child who is turning or has turned eighteen years old and who has a disability that makes them susceptible to exploitation or abuse   

Just because your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or has a mental illness or disability does not inherently mean that they need a guardian.  In some cases, your loved one may still be able to execute a durable power of attorney or advance health care directive.  It is always best to give your loved one the most dignity and least restrictive form of help possible.  Thus, if your loved one can understand a power of attorney or health care directive, we would be happy to help him or her achieve this.  However, if your loved one is unable to understand these grants of authority, we can also assist in appointing a legal guardian to assist and protect your loved one.  We treat every client and family as unique – because they are.  No two situations are the same, and we understand and respect that.  We listen to our clients carefully and offer advice and guidance for their specific needs.

Who needs a Guardian?  

If someone does not have a durable power of attorney and needs someone to legally help them with their finances or medical decisions, they must petition the Court of Chancery to have a legal guardian appointed.  (Some states call this person a conservator.) The person needing assistance is referred to in some states as the “ward” and in Delaware as the “alleged disabled person.”  I will refer to the person needing help as your loved one on this page.   

The legal guardian may be appointed as guardian of the property or guardian of the person, or both.  If they are appointed guardian of the property, they manage your loved one’s property (e.g., bank accounts, real estate, retirement accounts, life insurance, Medicaid qualification).  If they are appointed guardian of the person, they manage your loved one’s medical affairs, where he or she lives, who cares for him or her, who visits him or her, and generally all aspects of your loved one’s day-to-day life.  

A guardian must report to the Court of Chancery at least annually (and sometimes more frequently, depending on the situation), and the Court oversees all aspects of the guardianship.  A guardian may be removed if they are found to not be acting in your loved one’s best interests. Further, the guardianship may be terminated if you loved one regains capacity to manage his or her own financial and medical decisions. 

Navigating the role of guardian can be very challenging.  An attorney experienced in adult guardianships like Elle Van Dahlgren can often provide guidance and direction that eases the challenges in fulfilling the responsibilities of guardian.  We understand that every family is different.  We listen to you and want to hear about your loved one, his or her situation and needs, and help you support and protect your loved one.   

If you would like to discuss your needs with us, please call (302) 407-5009 or send us an email here.  

  Frequently Asked Questions