Former talk show host Wendy Williams is the subject of a docuseries about her ongoing health and financial battles, which focuses on the months following the start of her guardianship in May 2022. Williams is far from the only celebrity ever placed under guardianship. As an NPR article reported, “Wendy Williams’ guardianship is the subject of a new documentary. Here’s how it works.”

In late February, Williams’ care team announced she had been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia. Aphasia affects the ability to speak and understand speech, while frontotemporal dementia leads to a loss of function in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.

What is a Guardianship?

A guardianship, like Wendy’s, is a legal process when an individual can no longer manage their own affairs because of an illness, injury, or disability. A guardianship can be called by different names in different states, and in many states it is split into two proceedings. One to appoint someone to manage your personal affairs like where you live and the type of medical care you require (called a Guardianship is Missouri) and one to appoint someone to manage your finances (called a Conservatorship in Missouri). The same person may be appointed to serve in both positions.

Guardianship cases vary depending on the person’s circumstances and what a judge orders the guardian to do. In many states, they are reviewed on an annual basis. Guardians must keep detailed records of everything they do, from financial transactions to health care decisions.

While individuals don’t always have the choice to choose their guardian, they can sometimes recommend a person they would like to be appointed to the role. A family member is often named. However, there can be an institutional guardian, including a banker or a professional guardian.

How Can I Avoid a Guardianship?

There are other ways a person can give someone else decision-making power, including Power of Attorney, typically appointed by the person and made legal with an estate planning attorney. No court involvement is needed.

Supported decision-making agreements are community designations for specific individuals in a person’s life to help make major decisions (More Information here).

A person or organization approved by the Social Security Administration can manage a person’s Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits is known as a Representative Payee.

The ideal situation is when the person and their spouse or family meet with an estate planning attorney before or shortly after a diagnosis to create a plan and the accompanying legal documents so they can be part of the decision-making process for their future, whatever it may bring. Call us now in St. Louis, Missouri to get started. We support the entire Saint Louis Metropolitan Area.

References: NPR (March 1, 2024) “Wendy Williams’ guardianship is the subject of a new documentary. Here’s how it works”, Missouri Protections and Advocacy Services (June 25, 2023) “Alternatives to Guardianship”, and Missouri Developmental Disabilities Council “Supported Decision Making Resources”.