The term “guardianship” refers to the court supervision of an incapacitated person. The court appoints a guardian and grants them legal authority to make personal and/or financial decisions for the incapacitated person. This can be needed if, for example, the incapacitated person owes debts to others.
This can be a lengthy process and it can be difficult to get the guardianship granted. Not everyone can serve as a guardian.
There are a number of provisions in the Texas Estates Code that address the qualifications of guardians. These legal provisions are intended to ensure that individuals receive appropriate care and financial management.
If you have an adult sibling who is married and your sibling becomes disabled, can you get appointed as their guardian? What if their spouse also wants to be the guardian? The Goode v. McGuire, No. 01-20-00028-CV (Tex. App.–Houston [1st Dist.] 2023) court case answers this very question.
Facts and Procedural History
The Goode v. McGuire case involves a disputed guardianship of an incapacitated adult. The dispute was between the incapacitated adult’s husband and her half-sister.
The incapacitated individual, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, faced challenges in her daily life and living conditions. Her husband left her alone for an extended period while he had back surgery and recuperated at a senior living facility. As a result, the individual reached out to friends and family, including her half-sister for help.
Due to concerns about the individual’s well-being, guardianship proceedings were initiated. The half-sister sought to be appointed as the guardian, and her incapacitated person’s husband also sought to be appointed as guardian.
The Requirements to Serve as a Guardian
Requirements to serve as a guardian are similar to those who are appointed as an executor in a probate administration. For guardianships, the requirements are outlined in Sec. 1104.352 of the Texas Estates Code, which states that a person, institution, or corporation may not be appointed as a guardian if they are deemed unsuitable by the court.
The trial court found that:
- The individual was totally incapacitated as to her person and estate;
- The individual was unable to provide food, clothing, or shelter for herself, care for her own physical health, or manage her own financial affairs and property;
- The individual lacked the capacity to make personal decisions regarding residence, voting, operating a motor vehicle, purchasing or owning a firearm, and marriage;
- Her husband was unsuitable to serve as guardian of his wife’s person; and
- Her husband was unsuitable to serve as a community administrator for his wife’s estate.
The trial court found the husband to be unfit to act as her guardian due to personal, financial, and medical negligence on his own behalf and on behalf of his wife’s health, and that her half-sister acted with good faith and just cause.
The trial court’s decision was influenced by the fact that the husband suffered from a hoarding disorder for which he refused to accept help, left his wife alone in an unsafe situation when he underwent back surgery, did not understand and accept her diagnosis and prognosis, did not pay bills on time, used his wife’s personal finances to pay his accruing legal fees, mismanaged her assets, was reluctant to accept outside help as necessary to assist with her needs, and is physically disabled.
About the Unsuitability of Guardians
One of the fundamental principles in guardianship proceedings is to ensure that the appointed guardian is suitable and capable of fulfilling their responsibilities. According to Sec. 1104.352 of the Texas Estates Code, a person, institution, or corporation may not be appointed as a guardian if they are deemed unsuitable by the court. This provision aims to protect the interests and well-being of the individual in need of a guardian.
The intention behind this provision is to prevent the appointment of guardians who may not have the individual’s best interests at heart or lack the capacity to provide appropriate care. The Texas Estates Code, emphasizes the significance of safeguarding individuals’ well-being and financial interests. When appointing guardians or establishing trusts, the courts must weigh suitability and capability, ensuring that the appointed guardian is suitable to act in the best interests of the person in need of protection.
This case provides an example of a sibling who can be appointed as the guardian over the claims by the incapacitated person’s husband.
About Management Trusts
The trial court also put in place a management trust. Management trusts can be an alternative or addition to a guardianship proceeding. So had the court appointed the husband, it could have also used a management trust to help the husband manage his wife’s assets.
Note that the management trust is different from a special needs trust. The special needs trust is one that includes language to preserve government benefits. But it is also used or can be used in a guardianship context.
In this case, the court did not appoint the husband after finding him to be unsuitable in the administration of his wife’s estate and financial assets for her care.
Management trusts are provided for in Sec. 1301.053 of the Texas Estates Code. This section addresses the creation of trusts for the purpose of managing an individual’s funds and it allows for the establishment of a trust if it is in the best interests of the person for whom the application is filed.
Sec. 1301.053 addresses the creation of trusts for the purpose of managing an individual’s funds. This section allows for the establishment of a trust if it is in the best interests of the person for whom the application is filed. The court, following an application by an appropriate person as provided by Section 1301.051, can enter an order for the creation of a trust.
Texas law provides a comprehensive framework for guardianship cases and who can be appointed. The law aims to achieve a balance between suitability and the best interests of individuals in guardianship matters. These provisions underscore the state’s commitment to safeguarding vulnerable individuals and ensuring their proper care and financial management regardless of their familial status. As this case shows, not everyone is capable or suitable for being a guardian. In these cases, the incapacitated person’s other family members may need to step in and serve as the guardian. It also explains how a management trust may be used in conjunction with or in lieu of a guardianship.
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