The relatively new profession of certified professional guardian has emerged as a growing field of work here and statewide, as demand increases for guardians who manage the affairs of those who cant completely tend to things themselves.
The Washington Supreme Court in 2000 approved rules requiring certification by the state of any individual who acts as a paid guardian for three or more non-related people. Such guardians must have completed mandatory certification training.
Since then, the state has certified 36 agencies and 250 individuals as certified professional guardians. Of those, five agencies and 21 individuals are in Spokane.
Those involved in the industry say that number is growing, as is demand for such services.
In Spokane, we probably could use some more, says Dick Sayre, an elder-law attorney with Sayre & Sayre PS who sits on the state board that trains, certifies, and monitors professional guardians. In the outlying areas, we definitely have a shortage. There are a number of counties that have none.
The vast majority of the cases for which a guardian is required involve elderly people who have some form of dementia or who have suffered some sort of traumatic event, such as a stroke, that limits their cognitive capabilities, Sayre says. Younger adults who might need a guardian include developmentally disabled people or those who suffer some sort of mental disorder.
A full guardianship takes away a persons rights and grants a guardian the power to make all decisions on his or her behalf, says Lin ODell, a registered nurse and attorney who works as a certified professional guardian here. The guardians actions on the incapacitated persons behalf are monitored by Superior Court, which handles all guardian cases.
Some cases call for a limited guardianship, in which only some rights are granted to a guardian. In those cases, an individual who has a guardian still can have control of those aspects of life that he or she can manage, ODell says.
We always look for the least restrictive alternative, she says.
For example, she says, an elderly man might be able to tend to his own health and hygiene, but ends up living for a time without electricity and other services because he forgot to pay his bills.
Another elderly person might be able to pay his bills, but forgets to take prescriptions or struggles to follow a doctors recommendations.
In such cases, ODell says, the court might grant a limited guardianship for the unmanageable tasks, but allow the individual to handle tasks he or she is capable of handling.
Most of the time, however, a persons limited capacities arent identified until a full guardianship is necessary, she says.
Sayre says guardianships often can be avoided if an elderly person makes arrangements before becoming incapacitated and to grant power of attorney to another person, typically a spouse, adult child, or someone else he or she trusts implicitly.
A person with power of attorney has many of the same authorities as a guardian, but an elderly person who has given someone power of attorney doesnt give up his or her own rights, and can revoke a power of attorney.
While people can avoid guardianship proceedings by arranging a power of attorney, many fail to do so, Sayre says.
People are funny, he says. They take the position that theyll never be sick. Unfortunately, thats not the case.
Power of attorney, however, isnt monitored by the court, as guardianships are, so elderly people who dont have people close to them that they trust shouldnt give power of attorney to someone who could take advantage of them, Sayre warns.
Establishing a guardianship typically costs between $2,000 and $3,000, and a certified professional guardian typically makes between $75 and $125 an hour, Sayre says.
Some certified professional guardians, like ODell, are attorneys who have added guardianship as part of their practice.
Most of themabout 80 percent, Sayre estimatesare full-time guardians who have past experience in social work, finance, human services, or some combination thereof.
In addition to having completed mandatory certification training, individuals who want to become certified guardians have a minimum amount of experience in a related field.
Sayre says hed like to see more certified guardians in Eastern Washington.
He says, however, Its an extremely difficult job. Youre making a variety of decisions for a person who is completely dependent upon you. Its not a job that just anyone would want.
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