I am frequently asked if guardianship court hearings are public proceedings. The short answer is “Yes”. However, there is a statutory provision that allows the Court to close the proceeding (make the hearing closed to the public) in limited circumstances.
Minn. Stat. 524.5-307 provides that “the hearing . . . may be closed at the request of the respondent and a showing of good cause.”
So who can make the request to close the hearing? The request must be made by, or on behalf of, the respondent (the person for whom guardianship is sought). If the respondent isn’t in a position to ask that the hearing be closed, his attorney or an interested party speaking on his behalf should make the request to the court.
What are some things that might be “good cause” to close the hearing?
- Particularly sensitive or embarrassing information that will come out during the course of the hearing. It’s probably NOT sufficient to say that medical information will be discussed, because that happens in virtually every guardianship proceeding. But if there is medical information that is extremely sensitive, it may be enough to constitute “good cause”.
- Behaviors of the respondent that are triggered/exasperated by a crowd. Sometimes a respondent has a diagnoses that causes behaviors or extreme anxiety around crowds or strangers. In cases like these, the Court may close the hearing, so that the respondent isn’t extremely agitated during the hearing.
- Being a minor. Since other proceedings involving minors are closed (juvenile court, CHIPS proceedings), the Court often times will close minor guardianship or conservatorship hearings.
- Other situations that are extremely sensitive, embarassing or that would be detrimental to the respondent’s health, safety and well-being if open/public hearing was to proceed.
I represent a lot of people who are put under guardianship and one of the things that I always talk about with them is that a guardianship does NOT always last forever. This is particularly true in the case of young adults, who are put under guardianship when they turn 18 because of disabilities like ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Anxiety Disorder.* With any individual, but particularly with “children” when they turn 18, they simply need more time, more transitional schooling, more life experience, before they are able to function in society without a guardian.
How is a guardianship ended in Minnesota? By convincing the Court that a person is no longer in need of the assistance or protection of a guardian. The court will have a hearing to determine whether a guardianship should be terminated. At the hearing, evidence is presented to show that the individual is now able to make and communicate his/her own responsible decisions regarding medical care, shelter, nutrition, clothing and safety. Although statute doesn’t technically require it, it is usually very helpful to have a Physician’s Statement that there is no longer a continuing need for a guardian. Once a prima facie case is established that a guardian is no longer needed, if no one comes forward objecting to the termination and showing that in fact guardianship is still needed, then the Court must terminate the guardianship. The statute that governs termination of guardianships is Minn. Stat. 524.5-317. During this process the Ward (person under guardianship) is entitled to have an attorney represent him/her.
* (This list is meant to be illustrative, not exhaustive).
The Minnesota Judicial Branch recently released an awesome new interactive dashboard using Tableau software, which allows the user to track case data for the years 2012 – 2016. The source for the underlying information is the Annual Reports of the Judicial Branch (2012-2016). The user can sort by major case type, judicial district, county and dates. The Minnesota Judicial Branch interactive data dashboard can be found here.
It provides some interesting insight into guardianship and conservatorship case filings, in terms of numbers and in terms of the counties and judicial districts that are seeing more (or less) guardianship filings. With the coming “silver tsunami”, I anticipate that the number of annula guardianship and conservatorship filings will increase. Although, this could be tempered a bit with the push toward person-centered alternatives to guardianship.
The number of guardianship/conservatorship cases filed in Minnesota for 2012 – 2016 was 13,570, broken down as follows:
- 2012: 2,718
- 2013: 2,704
- 2014: 2,620
- 2015: 2,797
- 2016: 2,731
The number of guardianship/conservatorship cases filed in Hennepin County for 2012 – 2016 was 2,664, broken down as follows:
- 2012: 550
- 2013: 590
- 2014: 525
- 2015: 503
- 2016: 496
The number of guardianship/conservatorship cases filed in Ramsey County for 2012 – 2016 was 1,041, broken down as follows:
- 2012: 220
- 2013: 203
- 2014: 196
- 2015: 228
- 2016: 194
The number of guardianship/conservatorship cases filed in Dakota County for 2012 – 2016 was 1,078, broken down as follows:
- 2012: 192
- 2013: 208
- 2014: 246
- 2015: 214
- 2016: 218
This is great information to have. Let’s hope the Minnesota Judicial Branch continues to keep this dashboard currrent.
What do you do if your elderly parent needs help making decisions?
- Determine what level of help that they need. This is often easier said than done. You should look at their physical, mental and emotional health and try to determine whether they are still in a position to make their own decisions. Sometimes the elderly can still come to their own decision about their medical care, where they live, etc., but they simply need help implementing their decisions. Sometimes the elderly have become so cognitively impaired, or are so vulnerable, that they can no longer even make their own decision, let alone implement it. Most times, the elderly lie somewhere in between these two extremes. Figuring out what level of help they need often requires the input of the elderly person’s physician. Sometimes you can tell what level of assistance is needed just based upon your own interactions with mom or dad.
- If mom or dad can still make their own decisions, but just need help implementing their decisions, you should take them to an estate planning attorney who can meet with them and get legal documents or other things in place that will allow someone else to help them implement their decisions. These things range from joint accounts to a health care directive to a power of attorney. The estate planning attorney could even put them in touch with resources to help them develop a care plan for if their health takes a turn for the worse.
- If mom or dad can no longer make their own decisions to keep themselves safe, then you should determine whether they have in place legal documents that allow someone else to make decisions for them. These documents are a health care directive (for medical decisions) and a power of attorney (for financial decisions). Depending on the details of the documents and the particular circumstances that mom or dad face, these might be sufficient to allow someone else to act on mom or dad’s behalf.
- If mom or dad can no longer make their own decisions to keep themselves safe and they do not have any legal documents or other measures in place, then you likely need to pursue the appointment of a guardian and/or conservator for mom or dad. Most people find that they need the assistance of an attorney to do this.
If you have questions about how you can help your elderly parents with decision-making, please contact Cindi Spence of Spence Legal Services at (763) 682-2247.
10 Signs Your Loved One May Need A Guardian
- He lacks good judgment on how to keep himself safe.
- She cannot reliably take her own medications.
- He gets lost in places that were once very familiar to him.
- She does things around the house that are dangerous – like leaving the burner on after cooking.
- He responds to mail or calls that are obviously scams.
- She insists on driving, even though it’s likely no longer safe for her to do so.
- He has become very forgetful – missing appointments, forgetting events, etc.
- She is frequently late – or completely misses – paying bills, taxes, etc.
- He is no longer able to balance his checkbook.
- She is falling and dismissing it as a one-off event.
If these sorts of things are happening to your parent, spouse or family member, he or she may be in need of a guardian to help him/her make good decisions and keep him/her safe.
Guardians and Conservators in Minnesota need to have a background study completed before the Court will appoint them as guardian. The specific statute that addresses the background study is Minn. Stat. 524.5-118.
Commonly asked questions about the background study:
- I am a truck driver (or a teacher or a daycare provider . . .) and so I already had a background study for my job. Do I still need one? Yes. The background study for guardianships and conservatorships is specific and checks for certain things, so it needs to be done even if you have had a background study done through a different agency.
- How much does it cost? Currently, it costs $50.00 if you haven’t lived out of state in the last 10 years, $130 if you have lived out of state (and then you will also need fingerprints)
- How long does it take? It typically takes anywhere from 5 – 8 weeks, or longer. So you should send in the background study form as soon as you file your petition for guardianship.
- Where do I get the form to complete the background study? It is available at www.mncourts.gov – in the “Forms” section, under “Guardianship – Conservatorship”. Click here for a direct link to the Guardianship Background Study Form.
Wondering what is involved in being a Guardian and/or Conservator for someone in Minnesota? Check out the Guardianship and Conservatorship video created for the 4th Judicial District (this is required viewing to be a guardian or conservator in Hennepin County):
I am honored to be featured in the June 2015 issue of Attorney at Law Magazine article “Cindi A. Spence: Solo Practitioner of the Month“. For those of you interested in reading about how I became interested in the area of guardianship and conservatorship law, and why I do what I do, take a look at the article.
As guardian, you have certain annual reporting requirements. The statute governing your annual reporting requirements as a guardian in Minnesota is Minn. Stat. 524.5-316.
Your reporting duties include the following:
- Personal Well Being Report/Annual Notice of Right to Petition for Restoration (this is a report that gives information about the ward’s current condition, living situation, any restrictions that have been placed upon visitation/communication, a recommendation as to whether guardianship should continue, and information on any compensation the guardian has received).
- This must be served on the ward
- It must also be served on Interested Persons as defined in Minnesota Statute 524.5-102
- It must be filed with the Court, along with an Affidavit of Service.
This report is due within 30 days of the anniversary date of your appointment as guardian. If you fail to file it, the Court will issue an order to show cause, requiring you to appear and explain why you haven’t filed it. In certain counties, you will be assessed costs if an order to show cause is issued.
As always, if you have questions about your responsibilities as guardian, you should contact an experienced guardianship and conservatorship attorney.
Being a guardian for your loved one is an important responsibility. For those individuals who aren’t “professional” guardians, the responsibilities can be confusing and overwhelming, especially during the first year when you are getting used to your new role as guardian. Here are a few tips to help with your role as guardian:
- File and serve your Personal Well Being Report/Annual Notice of Right to Petition for Restoration on time. It’s due on the anniversary of your appointment as guardian. The forms can be found on the Minnesota District Court Website under the “Annual Reporting Forms” section.
- You can’t just dispose of personal belongings of the ward. You need to first give Notice to the ward and interested persons of your intent to do so. The forms can be found on the Minnesota District Court Website under the “Other Materials” section.
- Don’t forget that the ward retains rights, even when under guardianship. The Bill of Rights for Wards and Protected Persons can be found at Minn. Stat. 524.5-120.
- You need to have a background study completed every two years. The statute that sets forth the requirements for the background study is Minn. Stat. 524.5-118. The form for the background study can be found on the Minnesota District Court website under “Establishing Guardianship/Conservatorship” section.
- Unless restricted by Court Order, the ward retains the right to vote. As guardian, you should make sure that the ward has the opportunity to exercise this important right, if he/she wants to do so.
As always, if you have more specific questions about your role as guardian, you should consult with an experienced guardianship and conservatorship attorney.