Washington State superior courts have the power to appoint guardians for people who are “incapacitated.” A person is incapacitated if the court finds the person has a significant risk of personal harm because the person cannot adequately provide for their nutrition, health, housing, or physical safety and/or because the person cannot adequately manage their property or money. This publication explains how to ask a court to modify or end a guardianship and how to ask for a different guardian.

What are some reasons to end or limit a guardianship or change a guardian?

A court can end a guardianship when the guardianship is no longer necessary. For example, a court can end a guardianship if it finds the incapacitated person can take care of themselves and/or their own property. As another example, a court may limit a guardianship if the incapacitated person only needs help in certain areas of life, such as with personal finances.

At any time, a court may change the guardian for any good reason. For example, if the guardian is neglecting their duties or can no longer perform the duties because of death, incapacity, or limited time, a court may find that a good reason exists to replace the guardian.

How can someone end or change a guardianship?

In Washington, any person can ask the court in which a guardianship was created to order the termination or modification of the guardianship or order the replacement of the guardian with a new guardian. If the person making the request has a lawyer, the lawyer must file a motion in court.

However, a person making the request is not required to have a lawyer for this process. If the individual does not have an lawyer, the individual may submit a complaint to the court, addressed to the clerk, the court administrator, or the guardianship monitoring program instead of filing a motion.  A guardian complaint form can be found on the Washington Courts website.  A person making a complaint can write a letter instead of using this form.

The written complaint must include:

  • The court case number of the guardianship (if available);
  • The name and address (if available) of the person who has a guardian;
  • The name and address of the person making the complaint; and
  • Facts supporting the complaint,  such as:
    -The guardian’s name and address;
    -How long the guardianship has been in place;
    -Where and when the guardianship was created;
    -Reasons why the guardianship should be changed or ended;
    -Any circumstances that have changed since the guardianship was put in place.

What happens after a request is made to modify or terminate the guardianship?

After the court clerk, administrator, or guardianship monitoring program receives the written complaint, they must deliver the complaint to the judge the next day the court is in session. Within 14 days of being presented with the complaint, the court must enter an order to do one or more of the following:

  1. Direct the court clerk to schedule a court hearing about the complaint;
  2. Appoint a guardian ad litem to investigate the issues raised by the complaint (the guardian ad litem can also be asked to take any emergency action the court determines is necessary to protect the incapacitated person until a hearing can be held);
  3. Dismiss the complaint without scheduling a hearing if it appears that the complaint is frivolous, without merit, filed in bad faith or for an improper purpose, or is regarding issues that have already been decided by the court;
  4. Direct the guardian to give a written report to the court on issues raised in the complaint;
  5. Delay the consideration of the complaint until the next scheduled hearing on the guardianship (only if the next hearing is within the next three months and there is no indication that the incapacitated person will suffer harm as a result of the delay);
  6. Order another action, at the court’s discretion, in addition to one of the previous actions.

If the court, after considering the complaint, decides that it was made without justification or meant to harass the other party or delay proceedings, the court may impose sanctions, including awards of attorney fees, court costs, or other appropriate relief.

If a court hearing is scheduled, how will the incapacitated person know?

If the court schedules a hearing, the incapacitated person and the guardian must get reasonable notice of the hearing.

What does the court do at the hearing?

At the hearing, the court may grant the relief it believes to be fair and in the best interests of the person who has the guardian. The actual procedures for the hearing will vary depending on the county where the hearing is taking place.  For more information about what happens at the hearing, contact the county clerk for the court where the hearing will take place.

What if the complaint is about a Certified Professional Guardian?

If an individual believes that a Certified Professional Guardian is acting unprofessionally, the person can complain directly to the Certified Professional Guardianship Board. Information about filing a grievance with the Certified Professional Guardianship Board is available on the Washington Courts website.

If a complaint about a Certified Professional Guardian is made with the court, the clerk of the court must send a copy of any related court order to the Certified Professional Guardianship Board. If the Board receives a grievance about a Certified Professional Guardian, the Board may send the grievance to the court overseeing the guardianship to be treated as a complaint.

Does the incapacitated person have a right to a lawyer at the hearing?

If the court orders a hearing, the incapacitated person must be given notice regarding the right to be represented at the hearing by a lawyer of the person’s choosing.  In general, an incapacitated person has the right to be represented by counsel at any stage in guardianship proceedings. If the court believes the rights and interests of an incapacitated person cannot otherwise be adequately protected and represented, the court must appoint an attorney to represent the person.

Where can a person get more information about this process?

A person can contact the superior court clerk for the county where the guardianship was created for more information about the guardianship process. For any questions about this publication, a person may contact Disability Rights Washington.

The following federal funding partners shared in the cost of producing this material: the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, AIDD (1501WAPADD); the Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA (15SMP05397); and the Rehabilitation Services Administration, RSA (H240A140048). These contents are the sole responsibility of Disability Rights Washington and do not necessarily represent the official views of AIDD, SAMHSA or RSA.

This information is current as of: September 2015

This information is a service of Disability Rights Washington (DRW). It provides general information as a public service only, and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should contact an attorney. You do not have an attorney-client relationship with DRW.  If you would like more information about this topic or would like to receive this information in an alternative format call DRW at (800) 562-2702, or email info@dr-wa.org.

Always advocate in a timely manner. Please be aware that there are certain time limits or deadlines to file a complaint, a lawsuit, or take legal action.

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