Guardianship in Washington State

Guardianship in Washington State

A guardian is a person who has been legally granted the authority and duty to act in the best interests of a person (the “ward’) who cannot take care of themselves due to disability or incapacity.  All minors lack legal capacity.  Generally adults become incapacitated due to injuries, disease, or infirmity.

A guardian may either be general with plenary powers, or limited, having powers over certain aspects of the ward’s life.  In contrast to a power of attorney, where the subject person retains their powers over their own affairs, in a guardianship, the ward no longer has the powers over his or her affairs that are granted to the guardian.  Because guardianship for adults involves the loss of an individual’s rights and powers over their person and property, the law provides significant procedural safeguards and hurdles that must be cleared before a guardian is appointed.

The guardianship process in Washington is governed by RCW 11.88.  Appointment of guardians is ordered by a Superior Court judge.  Following is a brief outline of the process for getting a guardian appointed.

1.    Petitioner’s attorney writes and files Petition for Guardianship.

  • Names and addresses of the person and their family
  • Approximation of the person’s assets
  • Reasons for the guardianship:
    • Significant risk of personal harm based upon a demonstrated inability to adequately provide for nutrition, health, housing, or physical safety; and or,
    • Significant risk of financial harm based upon a demonstrated inability to adequately manage property or financial affairs.
  • Suggested person to be appointed as guardian ad litem (GAL)
  • Nomination of Guardian
  • Signature of Petitioner

Notice of the Petition:

  • Personally upon the person
  • Personally upon the GAL

2.    Order appointing GAL is entered.

3.    A hearing is scheduled.

  • Hearings are to be held within sixty days of the filing of the petition.
  • Ten days’ notice of the hearing, personally or by certified mail to:
    • The person
    • Spouse
    • Parent if the person is a minor
    • All known children not residing with the person

4.    GAL conducts independent examination of the person and circumstances.

  • Meet and talk with the person and explain their rights, including the right to a trial by jury on the issue of his or her incapacity.
  • Interview friends and family.
  • Obtain a written medical report.
  • Assess the proposed Guardian’s qualifications and suitability.

5.    GAL submits a written report to the court at least fifteen days before hearing.

6.    A hearing or trial by jury is held, and the petition is either granted or denied by the court.