Do we have to wait until Dad dies and the whole situation blows up – which it will

Posted: July 23, 2012 9:46 pm


My father, age 87 lives in Wisconsin with my sister age 60. Father has some minor health issues but sister is bi-polar schizo-affective and has been out of control for about a year.  She is convinced that she has s different life threatening medical condition every week, and Dad drives her to doctor’s appointments but he does not have a POA or HIPAA for her and she wont tell him what is going on.  She currently has no Psych doc but supposedly has an appt with a new Psych in acouple of weeks.  I tell Dad he needs to either get the POA of HIPAA and take control of this situation.  He refuses.  He has no “plan” for what is going to happen to Ssiter when he dies.  She cannot live alone and she cannot live with siblings.  We and our families could not tolerate her disruptive and at times psychotic behavior.  Is there anything we can do now for Sister? Or do we have to wait until Dad dies and the whole situation blows up – which it will, because there is no plan in place.


Thank you for contacting us with regard to your family situation.  You are wise to contemplate likely future scenarios and outcomes in your sister’s life, given her reliance on your father who will, at some point, develop medical issues that preclude his ability to even partially meet her needs.  Most families are simply not equipped to step into the breach, particularly when cyclical and often disruptive behaviors are involved.


I do have some thoughts for you, however.  It seems your sister might be a very good candidate for guardianship — due to her diagnoses and recent pattern of behavior, it would appear that she is not capable of making sound decisions for herself nor of managing her own affairs.  In Illinois, the law requires that a medical physician complete a form putting forth the reasons the doctor believes an individual lacks the decisional capacity to fend for themselves — this may or may not be the case in Wisconsin (not all states have the same requirements for guardianship).


Once a medical doctor declares a person incapable of managing some or all of their affairs, an attorney can prepare a petition for guardianship.  The petition basically asserts that there is a disabled person in need of a guardian, and that a particular person or organization would like to serve in this capacity.  You can be the petitioner without being the guardian.  Based on what you’ve described below, my sense is that you and your siblings would not want the responsibility of being guardian.


Depending on the financial situation, your sister’s guardianship can be handled by a private company like ours (for which private funds are needed) or by a public entity, such as the Office of the Public Guardian (for estates totaling more than $25,000, and also requiring private funds to pay fees) or the Office of the State Guardian (for estates containing less than $25,000).  You can petition, and the entity can act as guardian.  You will not have further responsibility with respect to your sister’s care unless you choose to remain involved on a familial basis.  Her needs will be overseen and managed by her guardian.


If your sister were to relocate to Illinois, we would be happy to act as her guardian provided there is a doctor’s report attesting to her lack of decisional capacity and at least some means by which to fund the process and the hourly fees for service.  We act as guardians for about 60 people and have a team of clinicians dedicated to serving these individuals.  Because we are a private company, our caseloads are small and we are able to give these individuals ample attention.


If you cannot locate a doctor who will document your sister’s inability to make decisions for herself (and who thus believes she is competent) securing her cooperation in naming Agents under the Powers of Attorney would be highly recommended.  Without these documents, no one can act on your sister’s behalf if she is later incapacitated, and then she will once again be a candidate for guardianship, possibly in an emergency situation.  We also serve as Powers of Attorney but, again, our practice is in Illinois.  We cross nearby state lines for short-term assessments and other special circumstances, but cannot do so on a routine basis.

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