The role of guardian and/or conservator is one that carries with it considerable responsibility as well as considerable rewards. While assuming the role of guardian/conservator may appear to be a daunting task at first glance, the process of appointment and the fulfillment of ongoing duties are not as complicated as they may seem.
What is a guardianship?
Guardianship is a legal relationship that gives one or more individuals or agencies the responsibility of the personal affairs of the protected person.
What is a protected person?
A protected person is someone who has been determined by the court to be either incompetent or incapacitated. Therefore, a protected person to whom a guardian has been appointed has been determined to be unable to make decisions about various personal affairs of his/her life without the assistance or protection of a guardian. These decisions can involve issues relating to the person’s health, care, safety, habilitation, therapeutic needs, financial affairs, and others areas of the protected person’s life.
What is a conservatorship?
Conservatorship is similar to guardianship in that it is a legal relationship between a protected person and one or more individuals appointed by the court to make decisions on behalf of the protected person. However, while a guardianship may encompass all personal affairs of a protected person, a conservatorship is limited to the management of the property and financial affairs of a protected person.
Who can be a guardian/conservator?
A family member or other interested individual may petition for the appointment of guardian/conservator for a protected person. However, when a relative or other appropriate person is not qualified and willing to act in this capacity, the South Dakota Department of Human Services and the Department of Social Services are authorized to act as guardian/conservator for persons under their care.
What is the procedure for the appointment of a guardian/conservator?
First, a petition for the appointment of guardianship/conservatorship outlining the need for the appointment and the type of appointment requested is filed in the appropriate county. A statement of financial resources and a report from a physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist describing the person’s level of impairment, ability to appear at the hearing, and need for protection is also filed. The court then conducts a hearing and determines whether a guardianship /conservatorship is appropriate, and if so, whether a full or limited appointment is most appropriate.