I have been receiving a lot of inquiries recently asking me if the Courts are having Guardianship hearings during this pandemic. The answer is yes, with some changes to their regular procedures as indicated below.
A Guardianship is appropriate if an adult, 18 years of age or older, is unable to make decisions for himself or herself as it relates to his or her basic health, care and safety needs without the assistance or protection of another person (the guardian).
In order for a guardian to be appointed, a petition must be filed in the Circuit Court in the county where the person in need of a guardianship lives. The petition must be filed with the clerk of the circuit court, along with a filing fee. Because of Court office closings, in person filing is not encouraged during this time and petitions should be mailed to the Clerk’s office.
An evaluation report by a physician or psychologist must accompany the petition. In most cases, this doctor’s evaluation is allowed to be done virtually, if need be.
Once the petition is filed, the court will set a hearing and the person will be notified of the proceedings. The court will appoint an attorney, known as a “Guardian ad Litem” or “GAL” to be the “eyes and ears” of the Court. The GAL will meet with the person, the petitioner(s) and the proposed guardian(s) in order to investigate the situation and submit a written report to the Court. During this pandemic, in most cases, the Court is allowing the GAL to hold this meeting virtually.
The Circuit Court will then have a hearing on the petition —-usually on a Friday morning. The Petitioner(s), their Attorney, the proposed Guardian(s) and the GAL will be present. In many cases the alleged incapacitated person does not have to be present at the hearing. If after the hearing, the Judge finds that the guardianship is appropriate, he or she will sign an Order and Qualification papers will be able to be obtained through the Probate Office.
At this time the Arlington County Circuit Court and the Prince William County Circuit Court are still having in-person hearings. However, the Prince William Circuit Court is limiting the number of cases allowed to be heard and is modifying the time during the day that these hearings take place.
As of now the Fairfax County Circuit Court is not having in-person hearings. The Court is using WEBEX to have video hearings at roughly the same time of day as the in-person hearings were being held.
The Arlington County, Fairfax County and Prince William County Probate offices are currently qualifying Guardians remotely.