• Troyer & Good, PC

FAQs for Guardians During COVID-19 Part 2: Protections, Services, and Access to Courts

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many who are acting as guardians have important questions as to how the pandemic impacts their responsibilities. An FAQ list has been put together to address these questions. While the list is not all inclusive, it contains answers to some of the commonly asked questions from guardians during this pandemic.

This FAQ list, copied verbatim below, comes from a collaboration between the National Guardianship Association, the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging, and the National Center for State Courts.

This is the second part in a series taken from the FAQ list provided. Part 2 addresses frequently asked questions under these topics: "Protections and Services for My Clients or Loved One in the Community" and "Access to Courts."

You can read part 1 discussing frequently asked questions under these topics: "Contact with My Clients or Loved One," "Access to My Clients or Loved One in Nursing Homes," and "Access to My Clients or Loved One in Residential Group Settings and Hospitals."

You can read part 3 discussing frequently asked questions under these topics: "Protecting the Rights and Well-Being of My Clients or Loved One" and "Protecting the Medical Decisions for My Clients or Loved One."

You can read part 4 discussing frequently asked questions under these topics: "Protecting the Finances of My Clients or Loved One" and "Safety Precautions."

Protections and Services for Your Clients or Loved One in the Community

What can I do to make sure my client/loved one continues to receive the services and supports necessary to maintain health and well-being?

The challenge is communication and oversight while maintaining social distancing. If possible, communicate by phone or video conferencing with your client often. Also communicate with service providers, asking them to let you know if there are any breaks in services, and whether they see or hear anything unusual when delivering services. Ask neighbors to confirm whether service providers are coming as documented, and whether deliveries of food, medication, and other items are actually received.

Contact your Area Agency on Aging, Center for Independent Living, or your county or city department of human services to find out how services have been reconfigured due to COVID-19. For example, some localities are delivering meals or groceries to individuals who normally get a congregate meal at a senior center. Some are providing additional rental assistance, pharmacy delivery, transport to doctors' offices, and connections to prevent isolation.

How can I best maintain contact with my client in the community while maintaining social distancing?

Phone calls, simple video conferencing apps, text messages, instant messaging, and email are critical contact points. Some find it helpful to set regular times for check-ins such as just after lunch, or just after "Wheel of Fortune." Social distancing does not mean we can't see and talk to one another, but when we do, we need to maintain safe distance, and take precautions. Some meetings are taking place through a window, or on park benches 10 feet apart.

What steps/actions should I take to make sure my client is practicing social distancing and other health safety precautions?

Explain what is needed and why it is important. Lead by example - wash your hands, stay six feet away, wear protective gloves and/or a face mask as appropriate and explain what you are doing and why it is important for everyone to do the same. Provide gloves and facemasks. Ask your client or loved one about what they have been doing and remind them why careful practices are important. Check with neighbors, family members, and others if good practices are observed when you are not around. Facilitate safe social interaction such as video meet ups, or online group gaming.

How can I make sure my client remains connected to friends, family, and community?

  • Phone, video chat, text messages, instant messaging are all social interaction tools without physical contact. Encourage family and friends to send cards, photos, video clips, or short notes.

  • There has been in increase in social media interaction such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

  • Facilitate safe social interaction at appropriate distances (a gathering with everyone sitting ten feet apart to talk.)

  • Organize a video chat game night, or virtual brunch (or happy hour if appropriate.)

Access to Courts

Can I file a petition or motion in a guardianship case? Is the court holding hearings? How will I be notified of a hearing?

The National Center for State Courts has an interactive link to state court websites with information related to the pandemic (click on state profiles). Check that website for information about what is required in your state, links to webinars and other resources, and sample orders. Sometimes, finding out what is required in your specific case will require following instructions or links from the statewide level to the local court's website. Although each state must determine its own priorities and procedures in this difficult time, many states are placing a high priority on keeping the courts open for cases involving the protection of vulnerable people, including elders, children,and individuals with disabilities. The Center for Elders and the Courts has additional resources specific to guardianships, conservatorships, and other issues

specifically affecting elders. As pandemic conditions are localized and fluid, court policies also are subject to change. As state and local restrictions begin to be lifted, many courts are planning for safely reopening courthouses and determining what cases should continue to be heard remotely on either a mandatory or optional basis.

Should I submit a guardian report if I cannot visit my client or loved one in person? How should I file the report?

Check your state and local court procedures as noted above for current requirements, including any changes in the submission and filing of guardian reports and conservator accountings. Procedures may change frequently during this time. Many courts are continuing to require well-being, accounting, and other reporting even if they are delaying hearings. Even if your deadline for filing a report is extended, prepare the report to ensure you are up to date on important information and to document your contacts with your client or loved one.

What precautions are courts taking to protect my clients or loved one and me from being exposed to COVID-19 if we need to appear in court?

Most courts are using technology to conduct hearings remotely and/or enforcing social distancing and other precautions. Again, check your state and/or local court website for up-to-date information. (State court administrative orders can be accessed through the National Center for State Courts website).

Is the court continuing to require that I make face-to-face visits with my client or loved one?

Whether or not you can have face-to-face visits with your client or loved one, your duty to continue contact remains. Some state courts have issued specific guidance on guardian visits and reporting requirements. Check your state or local court’s website. For example, see the District of Columbia’s waiver of mandatory guardianship in person visits, Maryland’s statement from the judiciary, and Florida’s order.

Can I ask for a court order exempting me from state restrictions on visits to residents in an assisted living facility or similar congregate setting? Can I ask for a court order exempting family members, friends, or clergy from such restrictions?

You can ask for a court order, but these factors are important to consider:

  • Is the court hearing non-emergency matters?

  • Are there other ways to maintain contact? Courts may consider what alternatives (e.g., videoconferencing, telephone, etc.) are available.

Current CMS guidance prohibits guardians from visiting individuals in nursing homes, with few exceptions. The court may not have authority to order access in contradiction to the Federal Guidance. Nursing homes may jeopardize their federal certification if they do so.

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