Guardianship Services – Vulnerable

What is Guardianship Services for the Vulnerable?

We can provide guardianship services for individuals 18 years and older. Our mission is to serve vulnerable elderly persons and individuals with mental health issues or any other type of vulnerability. Our work is to provide support and direction for the individuals who have no source of support and are having difficulty living and making decisions in their daily lives. We are here to help the person make informed, person-centered decisions through understanding of consequences and dignity of risk on the spectrum of life choices.   

  • Is the person able to understand his/her situation and communicate decisions in a way that demonstrates an understanding of the consequences?
  • Is there an increased risk to health, safety or quality of life because of the decisions that he or she is making?
  • Does a condition or situation exist that places him or her in imminent physical, emotional or financial danger?
  • Are there other approaches, services or alternatives that will provide the necessary protection and support to the individual that are less restrictive than establishing a guardianship?
  • What damaging effects can the establishment of a guardianship have?
  • Will a guardianship provide relief and protection?
vulnerable elderly lady sitting with flowers for guardianship
There’s no easy way to determine who needs a guardianship, which is why each person’s situation must be considered in the following way:
  • Identifying and meeting the needs of our clients by receiving referrals from friends and family, community members, hospitals, Vulnerable Adult Protective Services, nursing homes, psychiatric centers, judges, human service centers, county social services, or the courts.
  • Talking to staff at our clients’ home or residential facility to make sure that their needs are met.
  • Involving our clients in the decision making process whenever possible and providing dignity of risk.
  • Ensuring that our clients are living as independently as possible while meeting their health and safety needs by preventing abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
  • Keeping the individual’s best interest in mind when making residential, medical, legal, and financial decisions.
  • Visiting our clients regularly so we know their needs and wishes.

Guardianship is when a person has the legal authority to care for the personal and property interests of another person who is called a ward. Guardianship is the appointment of a person or entity to oversee the physical and medical care of a person with limited capacity. A guardian is required to act in and represent the best interests of a ward, and to protect the ward and his or her rights. A guardian must ensure that services are provided in the least restrictive way possible and are tailored to the needs of the ward.

Conservatorship may be appointed to manage the estate and finances of a ward. This is usually done when a ward has significant assets to manage. The appointment is a separate legal process and does not involve making decisions regarding the ward’s personal life.

Representative Payee is a person who acts as the receiver of United States Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income for a person who is not fully capable of managing their own benefits, i.e. cannot be their own payee. The representative payee is expected to assist the person with money management along with providing protection from financial and victimization.

Client Benefits & Supports will be maximized through applications for North Dakota Medicaid, social security, and housing needs. We will also provide assistance with asset and resource determination.

North Dakota Century Code recognizes that a ward may need the protection of a guardian in all areas of their life, or only specific areas.

  • General Guardian: Responsible for decisions in all aspects of the ward’s life. This guardian assures that the ward has a place to live, food to eat, proper clothing and other necessities as well as medical treatment, schooling, vocational opportunities and other needed services.
  • Limited Guardian: Given authority to make decisions only in specific areas of the ward’s life. The court’s orders or letters will identify these areas.
  • Emergency Guardian: Appointed in situations where immediate action is required to prevent harm to the ward. An emergency guardianship cannot be in effect longer than 90 days.
  • Testamentary Guardian: The guardian spouse or guardian parent of a person who has been adjudicated to be incapacitated may, by will, appoint a successor guardian for that person.

A guardian is required to act in and represent the best interests of a ward, and to protect the ward and his or her rights. They must ensure that services are provided in the most normalized and least restrictive means possible and are specifically tailored to the needs of the ward.

North Dakota Century Code requires a guardian to involve the ward in all decisions to the fullest extent possible, which the court will clearly define.

Unless specifically limited by order of the court, a ward retains: the right to vote; the right to seek to change marital status; and the right to obtain or retain a motor vehicle license.

Steps for Referrals

We provide guardianship services for individuals who are vulnerable, elderly, or have mental health concerns and are 18 years or older.

If you feel that your family member, friend, or client needs the support of a legal guardian but no one is able to help, please contact us at #701-235-4457 or by email at gsv@catholiccharitiesnd.org.

Referrals can come from many different people or places such as:
  • Family
  • Friend
  • VAPS Attorney
  • Community Member
  • Hospital
  • Nursing Home
  • Psychiatric Center
  • Human Service Centers in North Dakota
  • County Social Services
  • Courts/Judges
  • Fargo
  • Grand Forks
  • Wahpeton
  • Devils Lake
  • Valley City
  • Jamestown

How do I go about establishing a guardianship?

There is a legal procedure that must be followed in order to establish a guardianship.  Once it has been determined that guardianship is the most appropriate solution, the first step is to contact an attorney.  Your attorney will help you file a petition for guardianship and a court hearing will be set.  Notices of the petition for guardianship and date of the hearing will be given to all interested parties, including the proposed ward.  At the hearing, the court decides if the proposed ward needs a guardian, the level of guardianship (limited or general) and who will be the guardian.

What happens before the court hearing?

The attorney representing the person seeking the guardianship (the petitioner) will continue to gather information and evidence that supports the need for establishing guardianship. The court will appoint a guardian ad litem, a visitor, and an expert examiner (physician, psychiatrist, advanced practice registered nurse, physician assistant or psychologist) to evaluate the need for and appropriateness of establishing a guardianship for the proposed ward.

  • The guardian ad litem (GAL) is an attorney who represents the proposed ward. The GAL visits with the proposed ward and evaluates all of the available information on the case. The GAL then files a report and recommendations with the court. The guardian ad litem makes recommendations based on what he or she feels is in the best interests of the proposed ward.
  • The visitor is usually a social service professional who visits with the proposed ward, his or her current (future, if applicable) residence and the proposed guardian. The visitor may meet with others who are involved in the case and examine information pertinent to the case. The visitor then files a report and recommendations with the court.
  • The expert examiner examines or evaluates the proposed ward. His or her recommendations and report are then filed with the court.

What happens at the court hearing?

All interested parties could and should attend the hearing. The proposed ward must attend unless very good and clear reasons for his or her absence are provided to the court. (The court may hold the hearing at an alternative location such as a nursing home or hospital to ensure the proposed ward’s attendance.)

  • The attorney representing the petitioner presents evidence to establish that the proposed ward is unable to make or communicate responsible decisions for his or her well-being in all or certain areas of his or her life.
  • The court accepts and carefully considers the reports and recommendations filed by the visitor, guardian ad litem, and expert examiner.
  • Anyone involved in the case may testify to prove or disprove the need to establish guardianship.
  • Once the evidence has been presented and testimony has been given, the court must decide if there is clear and convincing evidence that the proposed ward is incapacitated and there are no other options available to safeguard the proposed ward’s health, safety and habilitation. If so, the court appoints a guardian who will be able to fulfill the assigned duties properly.

Does it cost anything to set up a guardianship?

In order to protect the freedoms and rights of a proposed ward, the procedure to establish a guardianship is detailed, specific and requires the services of a number of professionals. The cost of setting up a guardianship includes attorney’s fees, court costs, and fees for the guardian ad litem, visitor and the expert examiner.

  • The cost to establish a guardianship can range from $1,000 to $2,000 or more. In most cases, these costs are paid by the person who is petitioning for the court to establish a guardianship or if the court orders, the proposed ward may be required to pay. In some cases, certain fees can be paid by an outside agency or may even be waived.

How do I know what authority I'll have as a guardian?

The court will issue orders and letters that specify the areas where the guardian does and does not have authority and responsibility.  After the guardianship orders and letters have been signed and filed with the court, the guardianship becomes official.

As a guardian, will I be financially responsible for my ward?

You may have the authority to oversee and handle your ward’s funds. You must make sure that your ward’s money is spent to cover his or her needs such as rent, clothing, and other bills.  Unless you agree to take on more financial responsibility for your ward or are clearly negligent in handling your ward’s funds, you have no personal financial responsibility.

Will my ward have to live with me?

You need to make arrangements for the care of your ward; you are not required to have your ward move into your home.  You are responsible for seeing to the well-being and best interest of your ward.

As a guardian, do I have to make reports to the court?

Guardians are required to file an Annual Wellbeing Report, an Annual Financial Accounting and a Confidential Information Form with the court.  The report forms are available from the probate office of the district court as well as the North Dakota Supreme Court website.  The reports consist of information about the physical and emotional condition of your ward, the services that the ward receives, any problems that have occurred since the last report, what the guardian has done for the ward, a summary of any medical decisions the guardian has made on behalf of the ward and an accounting of the ward’s financials.

Once I am appointed guardian, am I all alone?

As a guardian your primary responsibility is to ensure that your ward is receiving necessary and quality services.  There are agencies and organizations that can provide assistance in obtaining these services.  Some of these agencies and organizations are:  Protection & Advocacy Project, North Dakota Department of Human Services/Vulnerable Adult Protective Services, Legal Services of North Dakota, your district court, North Dakota Department of Human Services/Developmental Disabilities Division, North Dakota Department of Human Services/Aging Services Division, Mental Health Association of North Dakota, area social services, the Guardianship Association of North Dakota and the Guardianship Division of Catholic Charities North Dakota.

Guardianship Services – Vulnerable

Our services have one focus: meeting the guardianship needs of adults who might be vulnerable.