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Understanding Disabled Adult Guardianship Laws in Illinois 

Guardianship is a legal process designed to protect individuals who cannot make decisions for themselves due to disabilities. In Illinois, guardianship laws for disabled adults are set to ensure their well-being and to protect their rights. This guide aims to help Illinois parents of disabled adult children and adult children of disabled parents navigate these laws, providing a clear understanding of the procedures, responsibilities, and statutes involved.

What is Disabled Adult Guardianship?

Disabled adult guardianship is a legal arrangement where a court appoints an individual (the guardian) to make decisions on behalf of an adult with disabilities (the ward). This arrangement is typically considered when the disabled adult lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate responsible decisions concerning their personal care or financial affairs.

Illinois Guardianship Law for Disabled Adults

The Illinois Probate Act, particularly 755 ILCS 5/11a, outlines the state’s guardianship laws. This statute defines who may be appointed as a guardian, the process for appointing a guardian, and the guardian’s duties and responsibilities.

Types of Guardianship in Illinois

In Illinois, establishing guardianship is a significant legal process aimed at safeguarding the well-being of disabled adults who are unable to make crucial decisions for themselves. Guardianship is tailored to meet the specific needs of each individual, ensuring their personal and financial affairs are managed with care and integrity. This framework is divided into two primary categories: 

Guardianship of the Person and Guardianship of the Estate. Each type serves a distinct purpose, focusing on different aspects of the disabled adult’s life to provide comprehensive support. Understanding these types of guardianship is essential for families and caregivers as they navigate the legal landscape to find the best solutions for their loved ones.

  • Guardianship of the Person – Involves making personal decisions on behalf of the disabled adult, such as medical treatment, living arrangements, and other aspects of personal care.
  • Guardianship of the Estate – Involves managing the disabled adult’s financial affairs, including handling assets, income, and expenditures.

A court may appoint a guardian for either or both aspects, depending on the needs of the disabled adult.

The court further distinguishes a guardian as either a temporary guardian, a plenary guardian, or a limited guardian.

  • Temporary Guardianship – Often put in place when an individual has an immediate need for a guardian but, for various reasons, it is premature to appoint a plenary guardian. A temporary guardian may also be appointed if an individual’s power of attorney or plenary guardian is suspended pending an investigation. There are statutory limits on when, and for how long, a temporary guardian can be appointed.
  • Plenary Guardian – A plenary guardian of the person or estate is a fully empowered and perpetual guardianship. A plenary guardian serves until discharged by the court. 
  • Limited Guardian – It is very important that the terms of guardianship are as limited as possible in order to protect the rights and independence of the disabled adult. Where a person lacks some, but not all capacity to manage their personal or financial affairs, it may be appropriate to name a limited guardian. A limited guardian provides only the help that a partially incapacitated person needs, and only to the extent of the specific and express authority conferred by the court. These are very individualized solutions intended to support a partially disabled adult while promoting maximum independence, autonomy, and self-reliance. 

Establishing Guardianship in Illinois

To establish guardianship in Illinois, the proposed guardian must file a petition in the county court where the disabled adult resides. The petition should provide evidence of the adult’s disability and the necessity for guardianship. The court will then schedule a hearing, requiring the presence of the disabled adult unless excused for health reasons.

Key steps include:

  1. Filing a Petition – Initiating the guardianship process requires filing a petition, as detailed in 755 ILCS 5/11a-8.
  2. Providing Notice – Illinois law mandates that disabled adults and other close family members must be notified of the guardianship petition and hearing.
  3. Court Hearing – The court evaluates the disabled adult’s condition and the necessity for guardianship, considering medical testimony and other relevant evidence.
  4. Appointment of Guardian – If the court determines guardianship is necessary, it will appoint a suitable guardian, considering the best interests of the disabled adult.

Duties and Responsibilities of a Guardian

A guardian’s primary responsibility is to act in the best interests of the disabled adult. This includes making decisions that reflect the ward’s personal wishes and values as much as possible. Guardians are accountable to the court and may be required to report on the ward’s status and the guardianship’s administration.

Guardianship Alternatives

Illinois law encourages the use of less restrictive alternatives to guardianship whenever possible. These alternatives include:

  • Powers of Attorney – Legal documents that allow a disabled adult to appoint someone to make decisions on their behalf.
  • Health Care Surrogate Act – Allows for the appointment of a health care surrogate to make medical decisions when the disabled adult cannot do so.
  • Supportive Decision-Maker Agreement – The Illinois Supportive Decision-Making Agreement Act was passed into law in 2021. The Act offers an alternative arrangement to persons who might otherwise require a limited guardian. With such an arrangement the “Principal” (i.e. the person needing assistance) may enter into an agreement with a “Supporter” to assist with everyday decisions on a voluntary basis and tailored to their particular needs.

While guardianship can provide essential protection and support for disabled adults, Illinois law also recognizes the value of less restrictive alternatives. Powers of Attorney, Supportive Decision-maker Agreements, and the Health Care Surrogate Act offer viable options for individuals to proactively designate decision-makers for their personal and medical affairs, preserving autonomy and minimizing court intervention. 

It’s crucial for families and caregivers to consider these alternatives as part of a comprehensive plan for the well-being of their loved ones, ensuring that the chosen path aligns with the disabled adult’s needs and preferences. Consulting with a knowledgeable attorney can help navigate these options and make informed decisions that best support the dignity and independence of disabled adults in Illinois.

Final Thoughts About Illinois Guardianship Laws

Navigating the guardianship laws in Illinois can be unfamiliar, but understanding these laws is important for families looking to ensure the well-being of their disabled adult loved ones. By familiarizing themselves with the statutes and processes involved, parents, adult children, and other family members can make informed decisions about guardianship and its alternatives. For personalized legal guidance and support tailored to your specific needs, we recommend consulting with our experienced guardianship attorneys in Illinois.

Call Our DuPage County Disability Guardianship Attorneys For Your Free Consultation

To take the first step toward protecting your loved one, contact our DuPage County disability guardianship attorneys at SBK Law Group by calling at 630-427-4407 to receive your free consultation. With a wealth of experience in Illinois guardianship laws, our dedicated disabled adult guardianship attorneys are ready to offer you customized advice to meet your distinct needs and goals. Take action today to protect your loved one’s interests—contact SBK Law Group for comprehensive guardianship planning and secure their future today.

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