GUARDIANSHIPS PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN PROTECTING THE VULNERABLE
While the Court of Chancery is known for its role in corporate litigation, it plays, perhaps, an even more important role – that of approving and overseeing adult guardianships. In fulfilling this essential function, it is greatly assisted by the Office of the Public Guardian.
When appointed by the Court of Chancery, the Office of the Public Guardian offers critical support for adults who are unable to manage their financial and/or personal affairs, have no family available to help them, and are unable to afford private guardianship services. Such support is tailored to the individual needs of each client and may include a wide variety of types of assistance from applying for Social Security and Medicaid to consenting and monitoring medical treatment, to making end of life decisions. The Court reviews each guardianship twice per year.
A good example of some of the types of assistance provided can be seen in the story of Mrs. Briggs (a pseudonym). Mrs. Briggs, who is now 85, was referred to the Office ten years ago by a friend of her late husband who recognized that she was no longer capable of managing her financial affairs and was living in a home in much disrepair. Having come to the United States with her husband from England many years previously to work as a butler and housekeeper for a businessman who sponsored them for permanent residency, Mrs. Briggs had no family available to provide assistance.
When staff of the Public Guardian first met her, Mrs. Briggs had some symptoms of memory impairment, but wished to remain in the community. Although her physician did not feel that she needed a personal guardian, he agreed that a guardianship of her property was necessary for her protection. After obtaining this guardianship, the Office assisted her in obtaining the correct Social Security and other benefits. When it became apparent that her home could not be repaired due to extensive termite damage, the staff helped find suitable housing for her and those personal items that she treasured - pieces of furniture, memorabilia from England, paintings of her husband’s childhood home and a framed letter from King Edward the VII of England, for whom her father-in-law had served as a jockey.
In 1998, with the assistance of staff, Mrs. Briggs completed all necessary documentation and was able to fulfill her longtime dream of becoming a U.S. citizen. During the ceremony, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph J. Farnan took a particular interest in Mrs. Briggs, telling her story to all in attendance.
Over the years, the Office has continued to help Mrs. Briggs in various ways, including obtaining home aide and nursing assistance, as well as a Senior Companion so that she can fulfill her wish to remain in the community as long as safely possible and continue to enjoy the companionship of “Biscuit”, her Yorkshire terrier. This past June, when Mrs. Briggs’ home was flooded by heavy rains, the Office obtained a safe respite for her at the Hospital for the Chronically Ill in Smyrna. With her pleasant disposition and wittiness, she became one of the favorite residents at the facility. Care for Biscuit was also arranged and by September the two were happily reunited back in their own home.
Currently, Mrs. Briggs is showing increasing signs of Alzheimer’s and the Office is in the process of petitioning for guardianship of her person in the event that decisions regarding her health or living arrangements become necessary. Her input will be sought and all reasonable efforts will be made to honor her wishes if appointed and decision-making related to her person becomes necessary.
The Public Guardian, Linda Connors, sums it up well when she says:
|We feel that our involvement in Mrs. Briggs’ life has undoubtedly allowed her to have the least restrictive lifestyle possible during the latter part of her life. As with all of the wards for which we serve as guardian, we take our responsibilities to Mrs. Briggs very seriously and are humbled by the role that the Court permits us to take in protecting her and advocating for the best quality of life for her that is possible.|