Sick or Disabled Parents?

Understanding Guardianships And Conservatorships

Edited by Rory Clark

Guardianships and conservatorships are fraught with emotion, confusion, and detail. The courts attempt to safeguard the child or adult’s rights while being respectful of the desires of the parents, spouse, children, or other individuals seeking the appointment. There are two primary forms of guardians in Virginia: guardians for kids and guardians for incapacitated adults.

Some Key Terms To Help With Guardianships and Conservatorships:

Guardians Ad Litem (GAL)

Guardian ad litem (GAL) means “guardian for the suit.” A guardian ad litem in Virginia is an attorney appointed by a judge. The guardian ad litem helps the court determine a matter’s circumstances before the court. 

The guardian ad litem provides independent recommendations to the court about the ward’s best interests, which can differ from advocating for what the ward wants and bringing balance to the decision-making process. The GAL may conduct interviews and investigations, make reports to the court, and participate in court hearings or mediation sessions.

Incapacitated Person

Someone with a clinically diagnosed disability could be considered incapacitated. This incapacity leaves them unable to make or communicate decisions affecting their physical health, safety, or self-care. The person asking to be appointed Guardian is called the petitioner.


Guardianship is the formal court appointment of a person to make personal decisions (like living arrangements and medical decisions) for a person with a disability or special needs.

Whenever possible, we guide our clients along their unique care journey without involving the court. Judicial intervention can be costly, and time-consuming. Personal planning with powers of attorney and health care directives allows individuals who need support to share authority with a trusted family member or friend.

There are times when an individual must have a guardian appointed by the court to make personal decisions when there is no other choice. A guardianship in Virginia may be a total guardianship, a limited guardianship, or a temporary guardianship.


In a world where identity theft is the fastest growing crime, and the cost of high-quality care can be sky-high, there is very little that is more important than protecting an individual’s assets. It is possible to quickly exploit both seniors and young adults with special needs.

Privately arranging for help by a trusted individual with trusts and powers of attorney can be optimal. Sometimes sharing authority can still leave a person open to danger from exploitation and bad decision making.

In those instances, or when our client needs to protect someone who did not have the opportunity to plan for their disability, we will go to court to make sure the best possible and most personalized financial protection is put in place for that person. In the same way that we pursue guardianships, our focus is on the appropriate balance between autonomy and support.

When Is A Guardian Needed

Guardianship is needed when a loved one requires assistance managing their personal and financial matters. We believe that the best way to preserve dignity and independence is to find the right balance between autonomy and assistance for those in need. We guide our clients through the court process with compassion and grace. To find the perfect balance for the disabled loved one. No one wants to go to court, but you will have a trusted guide by your side if you have to go. Contact us today (703)-988-7975.

About the author

Rory Clark

Rory has more than 30 years’ experience practicing elder law, estate planning, asset protection, Veteran’s affairs, and special needs planning. Through his personal journey, Rory not only understands the complex legal issues involved as a professional but also the intense emotional issues as a caregiver.

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