You are not required to have a lawyer to become a Guardian or Conservator for an adult or a minor. You can represent yourself in a guardianship or conservatorship process. As self-represented or sometimes called ‘pro se’ litigant, you can fill out and file the necessary court forms, notify interested persons as required by the court, and attend the guardianship hearing. However, since guardianship and conservatorship is a legal process, it is often best to speak with a lawyer before filing court papers.
1. What are my choices for legal assistance?
For legal help, your options may include:
a. Obtaining free or ‘pro bono’ legal assistance, if you are financially eligible
b. Paying an attorney to help with part of your case, called limited assistance representation
c. Paying an attorney to help with your whole case, called full service representation
2. Who is eligible for free legal assistance?
Each legal services program has its own eligibility guidelines. You will be asked questions about your income, assets, immigration status, and number of household members. Free legal representation is usually available to persons who live at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.
3. What if my income is slightly too much to be eligible for free help but not enough to hire a lawyer?
Some bar associations have a reduced fee panel for persons who are not eligible for free legal services but cannot afford a private attorney. An attorney may be willing to meet with a client for an initial consultation at a reduced fee. Attorneys charge different amounts, so it is important to shop around to find an affordable attorney.
4. What is Limited Assistance Representation (LAR) and how does it work?
In Limited Assistance Representation (LAR), an attorney agrees to help a client with part, but not all, of a legal matter and the client agrees to perform all the other parts of the legal matter. Often the cost of hiring an LAR attorney can be affordable and less costly than a full service attorney, because the client is only paying for a part of the legal matter the attorney completes and not the whole case.
Here’s how it works. The client contacts a qualified LAR attorney and discusses the whole legal matter. For instance, if you want to be appointed a Guardian, you would talk with the attorney about the family situation and the incapacitated person or minor, discuss the other people involved in the case and whether they are agreeing or objecting to the guardianship, which decision-making powers you are requesting as an adult guardian, and whatever else is involved with your particular guardianship matter.
After you discuss all the aspects of the case, the client and the attorney decide what specific parts of the case the attorney will be responsible to perform, and what parts of the case the client will be responsible to perform. The client and the attorney sign a private agreement that states the parts assigned to each and the attorney’s fee. The cost will depend on what the attorney charges for legal services and the amount of assistance the client is requesting. The client and attorney negotiate a fee for the attorney’s legal services.
5. How can a LAR attorney provide legal help in a guardianship matter?
Guardianship can often be broken down into steps or parts. An LAR attorney can help with one or more of the parts either before you file a petition for guardianship or at any point in your case. For example, an LAR attorney can help with one or more of these parts:
a. Advise you on your legal rights and the rights of the incapacitated person or minor, provide you with a better understanding of the law, the court procedures and the strengths and weaknesses of your case, or ‘coach’ you throughout the legal process.
b. Prepare and file the Petition for Guardianship and all the required court documents.
c. Assist with the notice requirements to ensure all interested parties are properly notified.
d. Go with you to court and speak for you at the guardianship hearing or additional hearings. This may be especially helpful if:
1. you are representing yourself and the opposing party has an attorney, or the opposing party is objecting to the guardianship, and
2. the incapacitated person or minor has money or property that requires the protection of a Conservator, and you also want to file a Petition for Conservatorship.
An attorney must complete additional training to be qualified as a LAR attorney. A list of qualified LAR attorneys is available at the Registrar’s office of each Probate and Family Court, or on-line at http://www.mass.gov/courts/courtsandjudges/courts/probateandfamilycourt/lar.html
6. Where can I find a full service attorney to help with Guardianship?
Typically, when you hire an attorney it is expected the attorney will help you with your whole case. In Guardianship matters, this can be especially helpful if your case is complex or contested by the other party. Often you can find attorneys who help with Guardianship matters listed under their practice areas such as, ‘Elder Law,’ ‘Family Law’ or ‘Probate Law.’ It is important to hire an attorney who is knowledgeable about guardianship law. Contact the Bar associations in your county or the Massachusetts Bar Association for attorney listings. Read more at www.massbar.org/for-the-public/need-a-lawyer