The Emergency Guardian

Last month, we looked into how we might help our retired fighter pilot Ace Azimov with his finances when it became apparent he was no longer able to manage them himself.  We arranged for a professional conservator to manage his money and finances, while still keeping him substantially independent. Ace wasn’t thrilled with the idea, naturally, but was smart enough to know that he needed someone’s help managing his money and appreciated that he had a voice in who that would be.

It was fortunate that Ace liked to be out and about putzing in his yard, because a neighbor spotted him on his back patio when the stroke hit, and immediately called the EMT’s when she saw him collapse.  She probably saved his life.

But now Ace is, at least temporarily, cognitively disabled.  The docs aren’t sure how much he’s receiving and processing, as Ace isn’t able as yet to communicate, but there is reason to suspect that the stroke may have taken a good bit of his executive function, and it’s certain that there is partial paralysis.  With no family in town and Ace unable to speak for himself, there’s an immediate need for somebody to have legal responsibility for Ace’s physical well-being.

Fortunately, Ace’s eldest daughter, Karla, lives in Cheyenne, and the neighbor who had access to Ace’s house was able to look her up and telephone her.  Five critical hours later she arrived at Memorial, only to be told that without a power of attorney or guardianship she had no legal authority to act on her father’s behalf.  Karla remembered that in years gone by Ace had gone to the base legal office and gotten a will and powers of attorney, but she has no idea where they might be, and anyway she’s pretty sure that Ace would have appointed her mom, Melba, as his power of attorney.  But Melba passed away in 2005, and at the time the powers of attorney were drafted none of the children was an adult so it’s unlikely Ace nominated any of them as a back-up.  Karla wants to take care of her dad, but she has pressing problems at home herself, and cannot remain long in Colorado Springs.

It’s futile to wish that Ace had updated his powers of attorney when Melba passed away. He didn’t, and Karla and her siblings must contend with the fact that health privacy laws will bar them from even learning much about their father’s condition, much less make critical care and treatment decisions.  A guardianship will clearly be necessary, sooner rather than later.

As I’ve explained in earlier missives, the formal guardianship proceeding will usually require an evaluation by a physician or neuro-psychologist, in-court presence of the respondent, representation of the respondent by an attorney, a court visitor (who investigates the situation then reports findings and recommendations back to the court) and often a guardian ad litem, something we’ll address in the future. It can take two months or more.  In situations like Ace’s though, where critical decisions can’t be put off without jeopardizing his health and safety, that process is too long.

In such cases the probate court can appoint an emergency guardian to serve for up to 60 days if there is legitimate concern that waiting for a formal appointment will injure the respondent.  Ace needs decisions on his care, and he needs them now.  Appointment of an emergency guardian will cover the gap until a permanent guardian can be appointed. With any luck time can be found on the court’s docket for a hearing in the next few days.

Who to appoint?  The nearest child geographically is Karla, and this is a situation that requires frequent in-person contact, both with Ace (on the hopeful assumption that he comes around), and with his care providers. None of the adult children is in a position to pull up stakes and move to the Springs.  In such cases there are a few professionals who can assume guardianship duties and take over the actual appointment.  The fees and services provided by such people can vary greatly, so this is one situation where you will want to take your time, do your homework, interview prospective professional guardians, and make an informed choice.

Just because Karla and the other kids cannot be close to Ace full time does not mean they must hire a professional guardian. Other professionals specialize in helping families with care planning, bringing together the various resources in the community to try to tailor a care program to maximize Ace’s independence while seeing to his safety and recovery.  A guardian, once appointed, is entitled to contract with various agencies and facilities specializing in attending to the senior community and to the disabled and making sure that there are eyes on target for Ace, even if the guardian doesn’t live nearby.

No matter which way Ace’s family decides to go, there are a large variety of services that can be of great help to the guardian and assist Ace and his family through this difficult time.  Navigating this sea of options is not advisable for rookies, so finding somebody who knows the terrain (to mix metaphors) is the best way to start.  Getting an emergency guardian appointed solves the short-term problem of having somebody who can talk to the doctors today, and it buys up to two months for the family to craft a comprehensive care plan integrating private and professional services.  Ace gave his all to his country and his family, and decent respect for him demands that he not be warehoused in a nursing home and forgotten.  We won’t let that happen.