Standards for private organizations

2021 Edition

Adult Guardianship Definition


Individuals who receive guardianship services maintain a level of independence and self-determination appropriate to their functional capacity, and are at minimized risk of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.


Adult Guardianship is the court-appointed responsibility of an organization to make any combination of informed personal and/or financial decisions on behalf of an individual who has been deemed incapacitated by the court.
Decision-making authority is limited by the court order and generally falls into one of two categories:
  1. Guardian of the Person: The guardian is granted the authority to make decisions regarding personal matters such as medical, residential, and social service decisions.
  2. Guardian of the Estate: The guardian is granted authority over the individual’s estate or finances.
Total authority to make personal and/or financial decisions on behalf of the individual is known as plenary guardianship; however, guardianship can be as limited as the court sees fit given the individual’s assessed capacity. Limited guardianship allows the court to grant decision making authority only over specific areas of the individual’s life. For example, the guardian may have medical decision-making authority, but the individual retains his or her right to make housing decisions.

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Note: Throughout this document, the term individual will be used to refer to the incapacitated person or ward for whom the organization is acting as guardian.
Note: Guardianship services are governed by state law and practice can vary dramatically from state to state. The standards below reflect practices that have been associated with improved client outcomes, but should be interpreted within the context of each state’s guardianship law.
Note: Please see AG Reference List for the research that informed the development of these standards.

Note: For information about changes made in the 2020 Edition, please see the AG Crosswalk.