When a Texas resident becomes incapacitated because of age, injury, or disease, the court may appoint an individual to protect and take care of them. The person providing care is called a guardian, and the person being cared for is called a ward. Judges prefer to appoint a guardian who is a close relative of the ward, but that is not always possible. To ensure that incapacitated individuals receive the care they need, the Texas Department of Health and Human Services operates the Guardian Services Program. The program’s primary role is evaluating guardianship referrals it receives from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The program may also be appointed as an incapacitated individual’s guardian when no other suitable candidate is available.
The Guardianship Services Program
The DFPS refers two types of cases to the Guardianship Services Program. Adults who are disabled or 65 years of age or older are referred when the DFPS finds evidence of neglect, abuse, or exploitation. Minors receiving care from Child Protective Services are referred when they are approaching the age of majority and may be incapacitated.
Evaluating DFPS referrals
The Guardianship Services Program begins its evaluation process by scrutinizing the evidence of incapacity. When compelling signs of diminished capacity are found, the program determines whether or not less restrictive options than guardianship would serve the individual’s needs. If a guardian is required, the program looks for organizations or individuals that would be willing to serve as the individual’s guardian and capable of providing the required care. If no suitable person or organization is identified, the program may petition the court to be appointed as the incapacitated individual’s guardian.
When a guardian is appointed, the ward loses their rights. This is why courts only appoint guardians as a last resort and when all other options have been exhausted. The most common alternatives to appointing a guardian are finding a person who can provide the same kind of help as a guardian but lacks the legal authority to make decisions, identifying organizations that could provide the incapacitated individual with care and assistance and contacting nursing homes or assisted living facilities that provide care to individuals with diminished capacity.