A guardianship is a court appointed role in which a guardian is appointed on behalf of an “incapacitated” person to make decisions and to act on their behalf. Incapacity is a legal status, which must be established at a court hearing through testimony and evidence, including a medical doctor’s testimony. 

There are two types of guardianships: Guardian of the Person and Guardian of the Estate.  The Guardian of the Person is appointed to make daily decisions, including medical decisions, as well as decisions such as where the person will live and as to what medical, therapeutic, educational and social services he/she receives. The Guardian of the Estate is a financial role, as this Guardian has control over the person’s finances and is authorized to engage in financial transactions on the person’s behalf. The same person may be appointed as both Guardian of the Person and Estate, but this is not required, and two separate persons, or an institution, may be appointed as guardian. Both types of guardian may be limited or plenary (unlimited). 

A guardianship is generally only appropriate where a person is found to be “incapacitated” and completely unable to manage his or her own affairs or to make or communicate decisions on his or her own behalf. As a guardian has a great deal of control over another person’s life, including both medical and financial decisions, the court has an extensive process for determining whether a guardian is truly necessary.

Appointment of both a Guardian of the Person and Guardian of the Estate is not always required; the court makes this determination on a case-by-case basis. Whether Guardians of both the Person and the Estate are necessary will depend on the specific circumstances; often a Guardian of the Estate is necessary for finances, but an individual may be able to meet his or her daily needs without a Guardian of the Person. The court will always favor the least restrictive measures, and will hold a hearing to determine the extent of the incapacity before appointing a Guardian. Guardianships are often most appropriate for elderly persons suffering from dementia or other conditions affecting the memory and their decision making capacity, as well as persons with special needs, who may lack the capacity to make sound financial and/or medical decisions. 

In order to be appointed as Guardian, a Guardian must petition the court, and a hearing will be held to determine whether the person is truly incapacitated and unable to make decisions for him or herself. A doctor’s testimony is required to establish medical evidence of incapacity, and the court will hold a hearing to determine whether a guardian is truly necessary. Once a Guardian is appointed, he or she is often required to post a bond with the court and is required to file an Inventory and Account on an annual basis with the court.

In Allegheny County, guardianships are handled by the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Orphans’ Division. Many guardianship forms and additional information can be found online at the Orphans’ Division webpage: