Senior woman embracing caregiver

The Difference Between Senior Guardianships and Minor Guardianships

At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., our accomplished estate planning attorneys have been successfully serving the needs of individuals and families throughout Southeastern Massachusetts for more than two decades. One of our important tasks involves handling the complexities of guardianship for those who are looking to protect their loved ones whether they are seniors facing incapacity or minors in need of care in the absence of their parents. 

What Is a Guardianship?

A guardianship is a legal arrangement in which the court appoints an individual (the guardian) to make decisions for another person (the ward) who is unable to make decisions for themselves. A guardian is appointed to meet the ward’s needs either because the latter is a child or because that individual is physically, mentally, or psychiatrically incapacitated.

Guardianship differs from conservatorship, a legal arrangement in which a conservator is appointed to manage only the financial affairs of the incapacitated person. In contrast, the purpose of a guardian is to ensure the physical well-being of the ward and to have a caring, competent person make healthcare decisions on their behalf.

Types of Guardianship in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, the law recognizes several types of guardianships, each tailored to the needs of the ward. The two basic kinds of guardianship are:

Minor Guardianship applies to children under 18 whose parents are unable to care for them, either because they have passed away, are incapacitated due to illness or injury, are incarcerated or are unable to fulfill their parental duties for some other reason. Guardianship ensures that the child’s needs are met, from grooming to education to healthcare, in a stable and supportive environment. As you might surmise, in many cases minor guardianship is temporary, only kept in place until the parent is able to once again fulfill their role.

Senior Guardianship (or Adult Guardianship) for adults who are incapacitated due to age, illness, or disability and cannot make decisions regarding their personal care or health. There are three subcategories of senior guardianship:

  • Plenary (Complete) Guardianship is established when medical records show that the person is unable to make any major decisions about their own care, lifestyle, living arrangements, or healthcare.
  • Limited Guardianship is more restricted in scope, applying only to specific areas in which the incapacitated party needs help. Limited guardianships may, for example, allow the incapacitated person to retain the right to decide on where to live, preferences concerning medical treatment, and the right to vote.
  • Rogers Guardianship is a specific type of guardianship in Massachusetts, Rogers guardianships are required when a ward needs to make decisions about extraordinary medical treatments, such as antipsychotic medication. This type of guardianship requires special approval from the court and is subject to ongoing oversight.

Why an Incapacitated Person Might Need a Guardian

An incapacitated adult may need a guardian for various reasons, including severe cognitive impairment, chronic illness, or a disability that renders them incapable of managing their personal and medical care. In such cases, the court steps in to ensure their well-being is maintained.

Who Is Eligible To Be a Guardian?

In Massachusetts, the eligibility to become a guardian varies according to the court’s assessment of the individual’s ability to meet the ward’s needs:

  • For an Incapacitated Person —  Typically, a close family member or friend is appointed, though professionals or public guardians can be considered if no suitable personal connection is available.
  • For a Minor — Relatives, friends of the family, or sometimes foster parents can be appointed as guardians, provided they can offer a safe and nurturing environment for the child.

Contact Our Experienced Guardianship Attorneys Today

Navigating the process of establishing a guardianship can be complex and emotionally taxing. At Surprenant & Beneski, our experienced guardianship attorneys will guide you through this process with a steady hand. Whether you are seeking to protect a senior facing incapacity or a minor in need of care, we are here to ensure that the process is handled efficiently, with a minimum of stress. Contact us today.