The elder population in America is growing. According to the Indiana Adult Guardianship Task Force, persons 65 years and older will outnumber children under the age of fifteen by 2035. Through medical advancements and easy access to healthcare, Americans are living longer than ever before, and spending a larger portion of their life as a senior adult.

And as this population ages, the need for guardianship services for them will grow.


Guardianship is a legal process that gives an individual or entity the power to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated individual, who cannot make sound decisions by themselves.

An incapacitated individual is an adult (18 years or older) who has been determined by a court of law to not be able to manage their own affairs including food, clothing, shelter, and finances because of a mental condition. Mental conditions range from a mental illness, to developmental and intellectual disabilities, to other disorders that affect an individual’s cognitive functioning.

When the Indiana Adult Guardianship Task Force released its “Who’s Overseeing the Overseers?1” report in 2012, it reported that there were 7,000 incapacitated adults under court ordered guardianship in Indiana.

Alternatives to Guardianship

Since establishing guardianship of a protected person may remove certain rights (such as the right to vote, marry, and own property), it is best to try and find alternatives to guardianship before filing a petition. Typically, these alternatives can only be put into place if the individual is still capacitated.

Alternatives to guardianship can include:

Supported Decision Making

Self-directed approaches enable people with a disability to determine and oversee the support and resources they require. Self-directed approaches are fundamental to the Standards of Guardianship and encourages an individual to participate in decision-making based upon their own goals, lifestyle choices, and aspirations. Supported Decision-Making is an approach to help individuals utilize ‘supporters’ in the decision-making process. Supporters (family, friend, and caregiver) can help the individuals establish reasoned decisions about their personal life. Supported Decision-Making may be an alternative to guardianship for individuals who are seeking assistance with decision-making and a self-directed lifestyle. The level of capacity of the person should be a factor when considering an alternative to guardianship, and seeking legal or medical guidance is recommended.

Termination of Guardianship

Guardianship is not intended to be a life-long arrangement. In some cases, an individual may remain incapacitated their entire lives, to the point that they need a guardian as long as they are alive. However, in cases of temporary incapacitation, it is expected that the rights of the individual be returned once they regain capacity.

An annual review is completed with every guardianship case to ensure that the guardian is still needed. Sometimes, with proper treatment and handling of affairs, an individual can become competent enough to manage their own affairs once again. At this point the guardian would be removed, and the individual would have all rights returned to them.

Guardianship can also be terminated if it is found that the guardian is neglecting his or her duties or has been conducting themselves inappropriately as a guardian.

Types of Guardianship

Below is a summary of the various types of guardianship (as defined by the National Guardianship Association).

In the definitions below, “ward” refers to the incapacitated individual in need of guardianship.

The National Guardianship Association (NGA) has a more complete list of terminology available on their website.

Indiana Adult Guardianship State Task Force. (2012). Who’s overseeing the overseers?

A report on the state of adult guardianship in Indiana. Retrieved from

Indiana State Bar Association. (2013). Guardianships in Indiana. Retrieved from

National Guardianship Association. (2017). Guardianship terminology. Retrieved from

National Guardianship Association. (2017). What is guardianship. Retrieved from

Thomson Reuters. (2017). Guardianship of incapacitated or disabled persons. Retrieved from