In previous posts, we discussed two of the three Court-appointed individuals used in guardianship proceedings throughout the State. For every guardianship proceeding, the Court appoints an Attorney ad Litem to act as the attorney for the Proposed Ward. In many cases, the Court may take an additional step and appoint a Guardian ad Litem to identify and represent the “best interests” of the Proposed Ward throughout the case. A third appointee that is generally found only in the guardianships of larger counties is the Court Investigator.
Each statutory probate court – the specialized probate courts found in the largest Texas counties – routinely appoints a Court Investigator upon the filing of an application for guardianship. The Investigator is designed to be as neutral and objective an observer as can be. They work for neither the applicant nor the Proposed Ward, and their background is often more filled with experience in social work than legal advocacy.
When appointed, the Court Investigator has an obligation to investigate the circumstances alleged in the applicant’s application for guardianship. Often, this involves face-to-face interviews with the applicant, the Proposed Ward, family, friends, caretakers and so on. The Court Investigator will almost certainly want to visit with the Proposed Ward where he or she lives, as most applications for guardianship allege that the Proposed Ward is less than fully capable of caring for themselves.
The Court Investigator’s role is very much what is sounds like. After investigating the circumstances, they will prepare and file a report with the Court. Depending on the contents of the report, it may be offered as evidence in favor of a guardianship, against a guardianship, or in favor of something in the middle. One of the key components of the report will be the Investigator’s conclusions regarding less restrictive alternatives. If something less restrictive than a complete guardianship would resolve the issue, the Court Investigator should identify it.
The Court Investigator’s office is also responsible for supervising the Court Visitor Program. Each statutory probate court is required to operate such a visitor program, and to utilize volunteers wherever possible. Court Visitors are often called upon to gather information similar to the Court Investigator and report that information back to the Court. In many cases, Court Visitors will be assigned to visit with Wards that have been under a guardianship for long periods of time. Their periodic information helps the Court determine if continuation of the guardianship is necessary.
As we take a step back from our review of the roles of appointees in guardianships, it is clear to see that in many cases, several individuals could be involved in the process. The filing of an application puts several wheels in motion for the applicant, the Proposed Ward, the Court and appointed personnel. Each person has their own role, and those roles are clearly defined by the same law which authorizes their appointment.