Unfortunately, as loved ones age they may reach the point where they are unable to manage their own affairs. A good strategy to prepare for this situation is for your loved one to have executed a financial power of attorney and an advanced healthcare directive. These documents allow someone to act on their behalf and provide guidance on your loved one’s wishes. Generally, having a financial power of attorney and an advance directive for healthcare is the best option because it does not require any court intervention: once the documents are executed properly, the documents are effective and, if the need arises, the agent(s) appointed in the documents can act on behalf of your loved one immediately.
However, there are times when it is necessary to obtain a formal guardianship and/or conservatorship for a loved one. Georgia law treats a person’s healthcare and finances separately. A guardian is someone who is appointed to act on behalf of another with respect to healthcare and life decisions. A conservator is someone who is appointed to act on behalf of another with respect to financial matters. Although a guardian and a conservator are considered separate positions, the same person can serve as both guardian and conservator and one court action can establish both a guardianship and conservatorship.
If a guardianship and/or conservatorship is needed, court action is required. Georgia law states that only a judge may appoint someone as a guardian and/or conservator over another. The process requires filing a petition in the probate court of the county where the person in need of the guardian and/or conservator (under the law, this person is referred to as the ward) is residing. Then the court must make a finding that the proposed ward is unable to make responsible decisions about his or her well-being and/or his or her finances. If this is the case, then the court will appoint a guardian and/or conservator who the court believes will act in the best interest of the proposed ward.