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Caring for a Massachusetts relative through guardianship

There might come a time when Mom and Dad, or maybe your best friend, just can't care for themselves and you need to take care of them. Legally, that is.

It's called guardianship, otherwise known as elderly conservatorship, and it happens when a court appoints someone to oversee the affairs of older Massachusetts residents who no longer can do it on their own. This typically is someone who can't remember to take the prescription medications, handle their finances or follow a hygiene regimen.

When you see this happen to a loved one, you can petition the court for conservatorship. These people can petition the court to choose a guardian: a domestic partner or spouse of the person in question, a friend, another relative or a local or state government.

The process isn't quick, which is understandable since some rights will be taken from the person. There likely will be an investigation and hearings where the judge will review the results and also listen to testimony. There could be opposition from either the subject of the guardianship or family members.

Possible alternatives to guardianship include a living trust, whereby the elderly person can assign someone to handle their money; a representative payeeship, where someone can be assigned to manage an elderly person's government benefits; or a power of attorney, where someone is assigned to act on the behalf of the person in need.

With these options, the elderly person willingly hands over those rights. With guardianship, that isn't the case.

This is a complicated, emotional process. A Massachusetts attorney with experience in guardianship cases can help you sort through the challenges and explain the pros and cons.

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