New guardianship rules take effect in Ohio

Thursday, June 11, 2015

man in wheel chair

The Ohio Supreme Court has issued new rules for all Ohio guardians that went into effect June 1. The new rules fall under Rule 66 in the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio and are meant to raise guardianship standards across Ohio’s 88 counties to ensure the best interests of wards are safeguarded.

The rules have been in process for several years, starting with standards that were developed by a multi-disciplinary committee at the Court. Non-profit and government agencies, along with experts in gerontology served on the committee.

Previously, county probate courts were left to set their own rules and policing standards for guardianship. Experts say these changes are needed and are a positive step in offering increased protections for those under guardianship. The Columbus Dispatch conducted an investigation that uncovered widespread abuse and neglect in the guardianship system.

The new rules require training, monitoring, and background checks, and require guardians to meet with their wards at least every three months. The new rules apply to anyone who serves as a guardian, including lawyers, social workers and family members.

Who needs a guardian?
An incompetent adult or minor child can have a court-appointed guardian. Someone who receives a court-appointed guardian is called a ward. A guardianship may be appointed over the person or the estate of the proposed ward, or both.

Ohio law defines incompetent as any person who is found incapable of taking care of themselves or their property as the result of a mental or physical illness or disability, or as a result of chronic substance abuse. Wards require assistance in decision making and advocacy based on limitations that impair their ability to make competent decisions. They typically live in nursing homes, group homes, and other supported living environments.

In Ohio, seniors account for most of the 67,000 individuals served by court-appointed guardians.

Who can be a guardian?
Anyone may apply to be a guardian, but they must follow the new rules. Some guardians, such as attorneys or social workers, are paid for their services. Others serve as volunteer guardians, receive training through a formal volunteer guardian program, and are matched with a ward.

Both paid and volunteer guardians are appointed by the Probate Court to make decisions for their wards relating to health care, living arrangements, or safety issues. Many times the guardian is the only person who visits outside of medical professionals or caregivers.

Several local agencies offer volunteer guardian training programs. For information on how to become a volunteer guardian, or agencies that offer guardians, visit Council on Aging’s resource directory.

Highlights of the new guardianship rules include:

  • Training and Education: Every guardian, both existing and newly appointed, must attend a six-hour course on the fundamentals of guardianship, established by the Ohio Supreme Court. In southwest Ohio, the course will be offered in October. Continuing education is also required. More information is available here.
  • Criminal Background Checks: Courts must ensure that all guardians have had a criminal background check.
  • Annual Plan: Guardians must file an annual guardianship plan with the Probate Court. The annual plan must state the guardian’s goals for meeting the ward’s personal and financial needs. The fundamentals course includes guidance on how such plans should be developed and the content of the plans.
  • Responsibilities: The new rules spell out with greater clarity the duties of guardians. Among these duties is “person centered planning,” which requires guardians to focus on the needs and wishes of the ward and to strive to balance a ward’s maximum independence and self-reliance with the ward’s best interest. Guardians must meet with their wards at least quarterly, communicate privately, assess the ward’s needs, and document their observations.
  • Complaints: Courts must establish a process to receive and store comments and complaints made on the performance of guardians.

For more information about the rule changes, visit Court News Ohio.