What happens if we lose the right to choose?

Think about it. What if someone suffers with dementia, or has a debilitating stroke? What if someone has a severe brain injury due to an accident? What about a special needs individual?
In other words, what happens when one of us – any of us -- becomes unable to make our own decisions? Who decides then?

People with limited ability to make their own choices need help. Guardianship is one method of providing assistance and protection.

So – just what is guardianship?

Let's begin by stating what guardianship is not. Guardianship is NOT the same thing as a power of attorney.


A power of attorney is a document signed by you in which you appoint another person (an “agent”) to make decisions and take actions on your behalf. Illinois law provides for two types of powers: power of attorney for property, and power of attorney for health care.

You can write out either or both powers in such a way as to make them effective only if you can no longer make your own decisions. The agent you have designated then comes in and acts on your behalf. Court involvement is not required.

If, on the other hand, you lose your decision-making ability, and you have no powers of attorney written out in advance, then a court case may have to be filed in order to pick a decision-maker for you. That's guardianship.

In short, guardianship is a court-supervised process for aiding people whose decision-making abilities are either diminished, or compromised, or lost altogether.

In Illinois, a judge may appoint a guardian to help with, or direct, one or more of three general functions: money management, health care choices, and living arrangements.

A guardian, in effect, stands in the shoes of a protected person (also known as a “ward.”) She or he is charged to act with the highest standards of faith and fidelity on behalf of the person in their care. The function is the very root of the word: a guardian guards.

The guardian appointed by a judge almost always is a relative or friend of the ward. But sometimes, no one is available to serve. Sometimes, a relative or friend lives too far away to help. Sometimes, multiple parties compete to be guardian, and a neutral third party is needed as a compromise. Sometimes, the identity of a person is entirely unknown. In these instances, a public guardian may be appointed.

In summary – a public guardian is a guardian of last resort. Scott Summers, an attorney experienced with all facets of guardianship, fills this function for McHenry County, Illinois.

By gubernatorial appointment and senatorial confirmation, Mr. Summers also serves as the Public Administrator of McHenry County. This involves service (once again, on a last resort basis) as a court-appointed representative when a person with assets dies (1) without a will and (2) without a relative or friend to come forward with their attorney to manage the money and property. Please see www.McHenryPublicAdministrator.org for details.