The One Year Rule

The “one year rule” is something I developed counseling clients about adult guardianships, and specifically, when, and if, to file.

It comes up in the following situations:

Client is an adult child of a demented parent.  Parent is in situation that causes child to be concerned about their safety.  Things like:

  • they are hoarding and the house is a fire trap,
  • the food in the house is rotten,
  • they aren’t taking their medications,
  • they are driving and creating a risk to themselves and others, as well as getting lost.

On the other hand, the parent is fiercely independent and bristles at the idea that they should consider moving into a safer environment or give up their driving privileges.

We discuss guardianship – that it will give the child the authority to place their parent in a more restrictive setting, but that it will involve a confrontational court process whereby the child asks the court to find that their parent is without capacity to make their own decisions.  Child waffles.  They want to protect their demented parent but don’t want to take away their dignity and force them to live out the remainder of their life unhappy, feeling imprisoned, and angry at the child who betrayed them.

I explain to the child that it is possible that if the parent is placed in a protective setting, they may adjust and become safe and happy in their new setting.  On the other hand, it is also possible that the parent will never adjust, will be completely unhappy, and will blame the child who put them there.

It’s a tough call.  I explain to the client: I am only a lawyer.  I can tell them how to create a guardianship, but the decision as to whether it is the “right thing” to do is beyond my pay grade.  I do however offer the “one year rule” which I have found helpful for other clients facing the same situations. It goes like this:

Project yourself one year from now.  Assume that you did not petition for guardianship and all of the worst scenarios you can imagine happen during this next year (your parent starts a fire in the house, walks outside in the cold and gets lost, etc.).  Will you feel (a)  I can’t live with the fact that I knew about the danger and did not take the steps to protect my parent when I had a chance; or (b) I respected my parent’s dignity and made a conscious decision to put his/her happiness above their safety, and I can live with that.