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It is never easy, but vitally important, to assess whether a loved one is competent or at risk of harm or exploitation.As we have become an aging population with Baby Boomers becoming senior citizens, the balance in average age is shifting upwards. This shift in population is also impacted by people living longer lives than in previous generations.  Many of us are experiencing this aging within our own circle of family and friends.  This longer living can be a challenge as people sometimes do not remain competent to take care of themselves and make good decisions.  When an adult begins to act in ways that cause concern about whether or not this person is competent, there are several questions to consider:

  • Is this person competent to provide adequately for personal needs regarding health, food, clothing and shelter?
  • Is this person competent to manage financial resources effectively?
  • Is this person at risk of exploitation by others?
  • To what level is this person competent to handle some matters and not others?

Based upon your answers to the above questions, there may be some simple remedies including a medication check for appropriateness, some changes in the home environment and financial oversight. However, these questions may determine that a more comprehensive structure is needed in the form of guardianship or conservatorship. In order to determine whether or not an individual qualifies for the appointment of a guardian or a conservator, Kentucky law mandates that this individual be determined to be legally disabled. An individual may not surrender rights until the statutory process is completed.

It is never easy to deal with assessing whether a loved one is competent. Acknowledging that someone is no longer competent or insufficiently competent to manage the generally expected activities of daily living can be painful, but inattention to this puts an individual at serious risk and should never be ignored. The Kentucky Guardianship Association is a nonprofit organization committed to improving adult guardianship. Its website at is a helpful resource for understanding the process.  Its video on the Resources page is thorough and does an excellent job simplifying what could seem to be a complicated, overwhelming process. The website also has a downloadable manual,  Kentucky Guardianship Manual, that goes into even more detail.  All of these resources prepare you for the process and for understanding the responsibilities of a court-appointed guardian or conservator.

When you believe that the person for whom you have concern is no longer competent, a petition must be filed in the District Court in the region where this person lives. The District Court clerk will help you to understand the details. Once a petition is filed, the court orders an evaluation of this person's competence.  An evaluation is done by an Interdisciplinary Team (IDT) consisting of a physician who will do the medical evaluation, a psychologist who will assess mental capacity and a social worker who will review the Respondent's social environment and ability to function. The state of Kentucky requires a disability trial before a 6-member jury. Evidence from the IDT will be presented and the jury will determine the presence and extent of disability. If the jury determines that this individual is no longer competent, the judge will immediately appoint a Guardian or Conservator. Once this appointment has been made, the court holds the appointee accountable for protecting the person who is not competent through a series of reports to the court which continues to maintain oversight.

When you have concern for an individual who is exhibiting signs that he is less competent than he needs to be, explore the options which are available to provide that guidance and protection.  The Kentucky Guardianship Association is a resource that enables you to get the information you need and network with others involved in guardianship and conservatorship.