An involuntary guardianship is when you ask the Probate Division of the Vermont Superior Court to appoint a guardian for another person. The court can only appoint a guardian if that person is unable to manage their personal or financial affairs without supervision by a guardian. Vermont law says that the need for a guardian must be:
- a result of “significantly subaverage intellectual functioning which exists concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior,” or
- “a physical or mental condition that results in significantly impaired cognitive functioning which grossly impairs judgment, behavior, or the capacity to recognize reality.”
Before Filing a Petition for Involuntary Guardianship
Before filing for guardianship, you must consider whether there are alternatives to guardianship which might meet the individual’s need for help. These can include:
- having a representative payee appointed through Social Security
- appointing a general power of attorney
- signing an advance directive
- establishing some other form of Supported Decision Making
Guardianship can only be used as a last resort if no other alternative will work.
Tip: If you believe a person needs a guardian because they are being abused, neglected or financially exploited, contact Vermont’s Adult Protective Services division at 1-800-564-1412.
Filing a Petition for Involuntary Guardianship
A friend, relative, social worker or anyone concerned about a person’s welfare may file a petition in court for involuntary guardianship. To begin the process, file a Petition for Involuntary Guardianship form with the probate division. In the petition, you need to explain how the person you think needs a guardian is mentally impaired, and how that impairment has made them unable to manage their affairs. When you file the petition with the court, you are called the “petitioner.”
As the petitioner, you may request that someone else be named as guardian or you may name yourself. If there is no suitable private guardian qualified and willing to accept the guardianship appointment, the Office of Public Guardian may be appointed to serve as guardian.
You must pay a filing fee for the petition unless you can’t afford it. (In January 2023 the filing fee was $150.) You can apply to the court to have the fee waived.
Once a guardianship petition has been filed, the court will appoint an attorney to represent the person who is alleged to be in need of guardianship. The court will schedule the case for hearing and order an evaluation to help determine the need for guardianship. If the person alleged to be in need of guardianship can’t afford a lawyer, then the lawyer is free. Otherwise the person alleged to need a guardian must pay their lawyer.
For more information and forms for a probate court involuntary guardianship, visit the Vermont Judiciary website.
When Does an Involuntary Guardianship End?
The person under involuntary guardianship has the right to ask the judge to end the guardianship at any time. They can also ask the judge to change their guardian.
The judge can end the guardianship if the person regains skills and is able to manage their own affairs again. The guardian is required to encourage the person under guardianship to develop or regain the ability to manage his or her personal affairs to the maximum extent possible.
The guardianship also ends if the person under guardianship dies.