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How to Set Up a Guardianship For a Disabled Adult In Iowa

Article written by Illinois & Iowa Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
March 28, 2020

In this article, we discuss the process of filing for guardianship for a disabled adult in Iowa and discuss the role of guardians in Iowa and acts as a petitioner. We also discuss the types of information that should be included in the petition, then we’ll take a look at how the courts in Iowa determine if a guardianship is necessary. Finally, we’ll discuss what paperwork is necessary, who should be involved in the process, and what comes after the hearing.

What is a Guardian?

A guardian, as opposed to a conservator, deals with non-financial issues for a disabled adult. In Iowa, if an individual’s decision-making capabilities become so impaired that he or she is unable to adequately maintain their own health and is at risk of physical injury or illness, they will typically require some degree of guardianship. 

Petitioning for Adult Guardianship

Beginning January 1st, 2020, Iowa changed some of its laws to create a more protective system for the individual potentially needing guardianship, now called the respondent. Once the guardian has been appointed the respondent is referred to as the “protected person.” The new law is reflected in this article. A petitioner can acquire the correct forms for guardianship online for a fee, go to their local courthouse, or seek out an attorney from the get-go. 

In order to set up a guardianship, the court must decide the level of competence in the proposed respondent. Similar to the civil litigation cases there must be clear and convincing evidence of the necessity for a guardian. Also, under Iowa law, a full, or plenary guardianship, is only to be set up when absolutely needed. Whether the guardianship should be limited is also decided by the courts, under Iowa law. 

Who Can Be a Petitioner for a Disabled Adult?

Usually, a petitioner is someone other than the respondent; possibly a family member, friend or someone else that believes the respondent needs help. However, a person can file their own petition for guardianship for themself.

What Information Should be in a Guardianship Petition?

It’s important to have all the pertinent information in front of you when filling out the petition form. Below you’ll find the various items and information that should be included.

  • A statement explaining the factual basis for the petition;
  • A statement explaining why there is no less restrictive option than a guardianship;
  • The petitioner’s name and address and his or her relationship to the respondent;
  • The name and address of the proposed guardian and statement detailing why he or she should be selected;
  • A list of names and addresses of the respondents family members, physicians and institutions wherein the respondent was treated at least 6 months prior to filing
  • Any attorney in fact or attorney designated with durable power of attorney, and any other pertinent legal representative or payee of the respondent.

Along with the petition the respondent is required by law to receive a written notice that details:

  • That the respondent has the right to be represented by an attorney;
  • That having a guardian will take some rights away from the respondent;
  • What authority the guardian has to take certain actions WITHOUT prior court approval;
  • What authority the guardian has to take certain actions WITH prior court approval;
  • And that the respondent has the right to a private attorney versus a court-appointed one
  • After the petition has been filed the respondent should also receive a notice of the case, including a copy of the petition and a notice telling the respondent he or she has 20 days to file an “Answer.”

What Information Does a Guardianship Court Need?

  • The court will want to know specific examples of how the respondent has acted against his or her own self-interests in the past and how these examples necessitate a guardian;
  • Information such as the most recent psychological reports, medical exams, evaluations, current treatment plans, and any other pertinent assessments. 
  • It is the responsibility of the petition to collect all this information. It also helps if the petition can bring along another person who can give some validity to the information, such as a physician or social worker.
  • The court will order a professional evaluation or a court visitor if they deem it necessary to gather further information and evaluation

The Respondent at Guardianship Proceedings

The respondent has the legal right to be at the hearing, barring any physical incapacitation or mental complication that prohibits his or her presence; in that case, the respondent can waive his or her right to be present. Generally, it is always best to have the respondent at the hearing if physically possible. This gives the judge presiding over the case a better idea of the respondent’s situation and even if there are behavioral issues that might overtake the respondent it is best for the judge to be witness to these, so as to increase the validity of the petition. 

Post Guardianship Hearing

Once the hearing is completed the court will enter a written order either in favor of setting up the guardianship or dismissing the petition. If the petition is dismissed the petitioner may appeal. If the guardianship is granted then the guardian must follow through with a number of responsibilities including an Inventory and Initial Plan within the first 90 days, and complete a detailed yearly report containing all the information about the guardian’s current health, living situation, contact with others, etc. 


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