One of the most difficult decisions you will ever have to make in your lifetime is the decision to seek a guardian for a parent or other adult family member. Realizing that your loved one is no longer able to safely care for himself/herself is hard enough to accept. Deciding that you need to step in and seek guardianship over the individual can be downright heartbreaking. It often feels as though you are taking away your loved one’s freedom and independence – not something that is done easily nor without considerable forethought. What you need to remember though, is that failing to step in could result in physical harm befalling your loved one or could lead to your loved one becoming the victim of unscrupulous criminals who prey on the elderly and disabled. The difficult part for most people is knowing exactly when to step in and do something. How do you know when your elderly family member needs a guardian? Unfortunately, there is no “test” you can take that will tell you your family member needs a guardian. There are, however, a number of signs that may indicate your loved one is in need of a guardian.
Any one of the following, on its own, may not be cause for alarm; however, the more of these signs you see in your elderly family member the higher the likelihood that a guardian is needed.
- Forgetfulness – no one’s memory works as well at age 75 as it did at age 25; however, general forgetfulness is also an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease and other old age related dementia diseases. Memory issues are particularly relevant when the individual forgets things that should be remembered, such as the names of family members, important dates like birthdays, or the word for common everyday objects.
- Physical injuries – yes, the elderly are more susceptible to physical injuries because their bones are more brittle etc. If, however, your loved one is consistently injuring himself/herself without any explanation it could be the result of a deeper issue such as memory loss, failure to take prescribed medications, or even harming himself/herself.
- Unexplained physical deterioration – the natural aging process means our bodies will all succumb to deterioration at some point; however, if your family member’s physical appearance appears to deteriorate rapidly and without explanation there could be more to it. For example, it may be that he/she is suffering from memory problems and is forgetting to take necessary medication or is failing to eat properly.
- Unpaid bills – assuming your loved one has the means to keep all the bills paid, noticing letters from collection agencies, “late” notices, or even services being shut off can be a glaring sign that something is wrong. Often, early stage dementia causes sufferers to forget when bills need to be paid or how much they need to pay.
- Missed appointments – a missed appointment here or there is not usually cause for alarm. If your family member starts missing several doctor appointments, or a regular bridge game though, something more is probably going on.
- Mood swings – everyone handles the aging process in his/her own unique way. Some people embrace it while other fight it all the way. Drastic mood swings, however, can be an indication that the individual is not mentally stable.
- Depression – depression is sort of a “catch all” sign because it can be caused by many things, including simply growing old. It can also become a life threatening issue though in the elderly if not recognized and treated.
What to Do If You Think a Guardian Is Needed
If you have noticed one, or more, of the above signs in an elderly family member it may be time to consider petitioning for guardianship. The best thing you can do is to sit down with an experienced North Carolina estate planning attorney and discuss your concerns and options. Your attorney can help you decide if guardianship is, indeed, the best option and if so, what steps you need to take next.
If you have additional questions about the guardianship process in the State of North Carolina contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Cheryl David by calling 336-547-9999 to schedule an appointment.