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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Guardianship has been in the spotlight recently, mostly thanks to Netflix’s movie I Care A Lot and Britney Spears’ ongoing conservatorship battle.

Guardianships can be necessary when someone is unable to make decisions for themselves. This is usually the case for the elderly, individuals with special needs or someone who has been in an accident. A designated guardian will step into place to help.

“A family member or a friend, just a loved one, to come in and help them to get through that, whether that be taking care of finances, helping them make medical decisions, whatever it may be,” said attorney, Sarah Stewart.

Unfortunately, sometimes the guardian can have ulterior motives and take advantage of the person they are supposed to be assisting. That is why the Oklahoma legislature is making guardianship laws stricter in our state.

“You have to prove that there’s no other less restrictive alternative. That this is a last resort, and it has to be specific to the needs of the person you’re getting guardianship over,” said Stewart. “What they’ve done also, recently, that goes into effect in November, is that you have to share your guardianship plan with all of the family, which was not required previously.”

Stewart said these changes will help protect vulnerable Oklahomans moving forward.

“It just really emphasizes to the courts that we want to make sure we’re doing as little as we need to, controlling this person. That we’re giving them as much space and ability to do their own things as possible. So I think that’s going to be very helpful for our guardianship courts from this point forward.”

Stewart said a guardianship is not the sole option available to Oklahomans. She recommends pre-planning to help protect your family.

“So my position, and most attorneys that you speak to will have the same one, is you should always pre-plan. If you have a durable power of attorney in place, it lessens the chances that someone will have to go to court and pay all this money and go through all this heartache to try to help take care of you,” said Stewart. “So the only time that you have a power of attorney and you would have to go to guardianship is if for some reason there’s a power that wasn’t listed in there that you need to access or maybe an agent that was named passed away and there wasn’t a secondary person named. So with proper planning, you can really avoid needing guardianship in the first place.”

Stewart said pre-planning could be helpful for people of all ages.

“I think it’s important to note that this type of pre-planning isn’t just for the elderly,” said Stewart. “I mean, any adult who may need help at some point with financial aspects or health care aspects, whether that be your child going to college or whether that be a child with special needs. I mean, I have these documents. It’s important to have in place just in case anything happens, because we never know.”

Stewart said if you do opt for a guardianship, know that it can be terminated in time.

“So still not the best process, but once they’re physically capable of caring for themselves or mentally, whatever it may be, they can petition the court to dissolve the guardianship as long as they can prove through medical records or whatever it may be that they’re better, that they can get their ability to take care of themselves back and get control back over themselves,” said Stewart. “So there is a process for that. It does take time. It does take money. So that’s unfortunate, but they can petition the court and get that removed.”

Oklahoma’s guardianship changes will go into effect on November 1, 2021.