If something happened to you tomorrow, who would look after your children? On average, when it comes to families with children, parents are careful to ensure that there is active, legal guardianship and life insurance benefits to provide for their family.  However, when it comes to ensuring guardianship for a spouse, or for themselves in the event of a catastrophic accident or injury, many adults have never considered guardianships to be important for themselves.

How Often Do Serious Accidents Happen in the United States?

You are a great driver, and drive a vehicle that makes you feel safe and protected.  However, no matter what vehicle you drive (or how well you drive it), you have the same risk that other drivers do on the road.  At any time, for any reason (weather, drunk driving, mechanical failure) you or someone you love can be involved in a motor vehicle collision that induces a permanent, life-changing disability.

By looking at motor vehicle collisions, or home or workplace accidents, personal injury statistics in Indianapolis and other states across America show the annual rate of serious to life-threatening (and life altering) loss is staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (September, 2016 data update), the number of emergency department visits for unintentional injuries in America is increasing on an annual basis; in 2015, more than 31 million Americans visited a hospital for emergency treatment.

Did you know that:

  • The average number of deaths from unintentional injuries in America is 136,000 per year.
  • Accidental deaths from unintentional injuries account for 42.7 out of every 100,000 Americans.
  • 3.5 percent of Americans over the age of 65 need personal care support from family, or medical care providers, due to disabilities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are more than one-billion individuals with disabilities from low-income to middle-income, with the majority of disabilities incurred as a result of traffic collisions, falls, burns, and acts of violence.

What happens when legal guardianship is not established?  Plenary guardianship allows for family to make decisions for adults who are unable to communicate or make care decisions for themselves.  Limited Guardianship covers all decision-making – from educational, medical, legal, vocational, and financial aspects – for a disabled adult over the age of 18 years.

Each state has a Bureau of Guardianship Services, where family members may petition for the right to plenary guardianship of a loved one, but the process can be lengthy, leaving a loved one unassisted and vulnerable to decisions that the family (or the individual) may not want.

Guardianship for a Spouse

There are laws in the United States that direct families, in the event of a disability, with regards to legal guardianship. If the injury victim is married, responsibility for the decisions, care, and treatment (as well as financial support) fall to the surviving spouse. This, in fact, is the reason why many married adults never consider the importance of guardianship; they know that their spouse will act within the best interests of the disabled or sick partner.

Consider for a moment that your spouse was equally debilitated in the same accident. Or, as age increases, that your spouse had a mentally degenerative condition such as Alzheimer’s Disease. If the surviving spouse does not have the mental capacity to provide care, or make critical health decisions for the disabled partner, it places the entire family at risk of delegation from outside of the family, or disputes from other immediate family member – including siblings, aunts or uncles, or even grandchildren – who may be forced to make some difficult (and sometimes heart-wrenching) decisions.

No matter how fit and healthy you are, and regardless of your age, a legal will is an assurance that will direct not only distribution of your property, but also medical care instructions, DNR (do not resuscitate) and disability care, and guardianship in the event that you or a loved one is incapacitated.

Establishing Legal Guardianship

Make an appointment with a legal professional who specializes in estate planning, last will and testament, and guardianship services. A lawyer can help you draft a contingency order for spousal guardianship, and instructions for care of any children who are under the age of 18 years. After the age of 18 years, a parent no longer has the legal right to make decisions in terms of care or financial management, without express written consent, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Regardless of the size of your estate or the monetary value of your possessions, a written order that grants decision-making, health care, supervision, and administration of finances is essential for every adult. It will give you peace of mind to know that you have provided legal instructions that will help protect your family, and provide trusted family members the right to care for you in the event of a life- threatening illness or cognitive or physical disability.