Iowa's New Laws for Adult Guardianships: What You Need to Know

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The Iowa Legislature recently passed House File 610, which makes several important changes to the way guardianships for adults are handled in Iowa. This new law will take effect on January 1, 2020.

The Legislature also has passed House File 591, which changes the way guardianships for minor children are handled in Iowa. This article focuses on House File 610 and guardianships for adults only. House File 591 and guardianships for minors will be the subject of a separate article.

Changes in Terminology

  • House File 610 replaces old terminology that was seen by many as outdated and offensive. A respondent is a person who is proposed to be subject to guardianship. This term replaces “proposed ward.”
  • Once a court officially appoints a guardian, the respondent becomes the protected person. A protected person is a person who is currently under guardianship. This term replaces “ward.”

New Rules for Starting Guardianships

House File 610 changes the procedure for how guardianships begin. Before a guardian can be appointed, the following must happen:

  • Background Check. The court must perform a statewide background check of all individuals who are proposed to serve as guardians, including a check of criminal records as well as the child abuse, dependent adult abuse, and sexual offender registries. The person asking for the guardianship (the petitioner) must pay a $15.00 fee for the background check.
  • Attorney. Respondents are always entitled to an attorney unless the respondent is also the petitioner. The court can appoint an attorney for a respondent who cannot afford or hire an attorney. The attorney’s job is generally to advise the respondent and advocate for the respondent’s wishes.
  • Professional Evaluation. Before the court may begin, change, or end a guardianship, the court generally must require a professional evaluation of the respondent or protected person. The evaluation must be done by a professional such as a physician, psychologist, or social worker, who must file a written report with the court.
  • Court Hearing. Before a guardianship can begin, there must be an in-person hearing in front of a judge. At the hearing, the petitioner may tell the judge why the guardianship is needed, and other parties may argue against a guardianship. The respondent has the right to attend the hearing in person. If the respondent does not attend, the court must be given a good reason for the respondent’s absence.

New Rules for Administering Guardianships

House File 610 also changes how guardianships are implemented. Some of these changes are as follows:

Initial Care Plan

All guardians must file an Initial Care Plan within 90 days after their appointment as guardian. The Plan must include the following:

  • The protected person’s current residence
  • The guardian’s plan for the protected person’s living arrangements
  • The guardian’s plan for paying the protected person’s living expenses and other expenses
  • The protected person’s health status and health care needs, and the guardian’s plan for meeting the protected person’s needs for medical, dental, and other health care needs
  • The guardian’s plan for other professional services needed by the protected person, if applicable
  • The guardian’s plan for meeting the protected person’s educational, training, and vocational needs
  • The guardian’s plan for facilitating the protected person’s participation in social activities, if applicable
  • The guardian’s plan for facilitating contacts between the protected person and the protected person’s family members and other significant persons
  • The guardian’s plan for contact with, and activities on behalf of, the protected person

Annual Reports

Guardians must file an Annual Report each year. There are no exceptions to this rule, and guardians may not go longer than a year between filing Annual Reports, even if they had done so in the past. The Annual Report must include the following:

  • The protected person’s current living arrangements
  • The sources of payment for the protected person’s living expenses and other expenses
  • The protected person’s physical and mental health status and the medical, dental, and other professional services provided to the protected person, if applicable
  • The protected person’s employment status and the educational, training, and vocational services provided to the protected person, if applicable
  • The protected person’s contact with family members and other significant persons, if applicable
  • The nature and extent of the guardian’s visits with, and activities on behalf of, the protected person, if applicable
  • The guardian’s recommendation as to the need for continuation of the guardianship
  • The guardian’s ability to continue serving as guardian
  • The guardian’s need for help in providing or arranging for the protected person’s care and protection

Actions that Guardians May Take

The new law also changes the list of actions that guardians may take on behalf of the protected person.

A guardian may take any of the following actions at any time, and does not need to ask the court’s permission first:

  • Making decisions regarding the protected person’s care, maintenance, health, education, welfare, and safety
  • Establishing the protected person’s permanent residence, subject to certain limitations
  • Taking reasonable care of the protected person’s clothing, furniture, vehicle, other personal effects, and companion, assistance, and service animals
  • Assisting the protected person in developing maximum self-reliance and independence
  • Consenting to and arranging for medical, dental, and other health care treatment and services for the protected person, subject to certain limitations
  • Consenting to and arranging for other needed professional services for the protected person
  • Consenting to and arranging for appropriate training, educational, and vocational services for the protected person
  • Maintaining contact, including through regular visitation with the protected person if the protected person does not reside with the guardian
  • Making reasonable efforts to identify and facilitate supportive relationships and interactions of the protected person with family members and significant other persons. A guardian may place reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions on communication, visitation, or interaction between the protected person and another person, subject to certain limitations

Guardians may also be able to take the following actions on behalf of an adult protected person, but only after obtaining court permission:

  • Changing the protected person’s permanent residence to a nursing home, other secure facilities, or a secure portion of a facility that restricts the protected person’s ability to leave or have visitors
  • Consenting to the withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining procedures from the protected person, or the performance of an abortion or sterilization of the protected person
  • Denying all communication, visitation, or interaction with the protected person by a person with whom the protected person has expressed a desire to communicate, visit, or interact, or with a person who seeks to communicate, visit, or interact with the protected person

What Current Guardians Need to Know

If you were appointed as guardian for an adult protected person before January 1, 2020, you should keep in mind:

  • No Background Check. The new law says that the court will run a background check before deciding whether to appoint a person as a guardian. Because the court has already appointed you as guardian, you will not need to undergo a background check.
  • Annual Reports. Starting January 1, your Annual Reports will need to include all of the information listed above. If you have not filed an Annual Report each year in the past, you will need to begin doing so now.
  • Initial Care Plan. You will need to file an Initial Care Plan, but you do not need to do this until you file your next Annual Report. There is no deadline for filing the Initial Care Plan, so long as you file it at the same time you file your next Annual Report.
  • Your Powers as Guardian. The list of actions that you may take for the protected person will change as set forth above, but these changes will not apply to you until you file your Initial Care Plan. Until that time, you will have all the same powers that you had before January 1, 2020. 

Conclusion

House File 610 includes many important changes designed to provide better protection to people under guardianships. If you are serving as guardian for someone else or if you or someone you know is in need of a guardianship, you should consult with a lawyer to ensure these new requirements are met.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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