When an adult person, the “Ward,” has a disabling condition rendering them incapable of making some or all decisions about health care, finances, resident and/or relationships, a Guardian may be appointed. Like all legal processes, steps must be taken to achieve this. Below are some of the duties you can expect as the Guardian of the Ward’s estate.
Administering The Guardianship
As a Guardian, you have a set of duties to the ward and the heirs of their estate.
In regard to the Ward, responsibilities include:
- Assuring that the Ward’s basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter are met
- Keeping the Ward’s assets separate from your own assets
- Deciding on the Ward’s long-term or short-term residence
- Determining the kind of medical care to be provided to the ward
- Managing the Ward’s financial affairs including expenditures made on their behalf
Reports on the above responsibilities and the results of your carrying them out should be the subject of periodic communications to the heir(s) of the Ward. These reports are what is known as the “status of the administration”. These communications can be performed directly from the Guardian to the heirs or can be sent through legal counsel as an official third party. The latter is often preferred when an heir is not personally known to the guardian, such as when the heir is out of state, a charity, an organization, or a school, or when there are contentious family or personal relations issues.
Accessing The Ward’s Existing Accounts
Once you are approved as Guardian, or the “personal representative of the Ward’s estate”, you will receive one original Certificate of Appointment in the mail from the court. This certificate authorizes you to administer The Ward’s affairs, meaning it grants you official permission to access their accounts. This certificate is a permanent record of your appointment and should be kept in a safe place. You will need this certificate when working with banks and other third parties that the Ward holds accounts with. Duplicates of the original may be requested by you to the Court on a case-by-case basis in the event a third party requires it.
Inventory Assets Of The Ward
Once the Guardianship is opened, a complete inventory of all Ward assets must be filed with the court in the time determined by the state. In Rhode Island, it must be within 30 days, pursuant to Rhode Island General Laws Section 33-15-1. If additional assets are discovered after the initial filing, an amended inventory must be filed. A state inventory tax may be applied.
Some of the most common assets include:
- Bank accounts
- Real estate
- Personal property (such as, jewelry, furs, art, stamps, and coins)
- Retirement accounts
- Life insurance
Annual Guardianship Accounting
A Guardian must remit to the probate court their account of the Ward’s assets annually. You will need to maintain detailed records of all transactions of the Ward, including transactions into and out of their accounts made by the Ward, and by you on their behalf. Maintaining monthly records to be compiled at the end of the 12-month period is a good way to keep organized and ensure nothing is being omitted. The careful and complete compilation of this information will also be useful to prepare tax returns.
Closing The Guardianship
In the event of the death of the Ward, or if Guardianship is no longer needed, the estate will be closed and the Guardianship dissolved. The “closing of the estate” is a process needed to officially hand over the current assets of the Ward to the court to either distribute to heirs, reassign to separate guardianship or place back in the hands of the Ward. In order to proceed with the closing, the court will need a final accounting report of the Ward’s assets. In the case of the Ward’s death, the process of distributing those assets will then begin according to their will. Once all tasks and duties related to administration of the Guardianship have been completed and all required documents have been filed with the court, the Guardianship will officially be closed.
Legal Assistance to Simplify the Process
McCarthy Law, LLC works closely with clients to accomplish their estate and life planning goals. Our North Kingstown, RI estate planning lawyer can help make each step of the Guardianship run smoothly from beginning to end and are able to advise at any step in the process. Whether you are in the beginning stages of life planning as the “Ward”, are a loved one of an individual in need of guardianship or are already an established “Guardian”, we can help.