The Nebraska Legislature recently passed the Public Guardianship Act, which will go into effect January 1, 2015. The Act addresses issues that arise when an individual is in need of a guardian and/or conservator and there is no one available or willing among the individual’s family or friends to volunteer to serve that role. The Legislature’s intent is to create an Office of Public Guardian that will provide services for individuals when no private guardian or conservator is available or suitable.
The Act also establishes an Advisory Council on Public Guardianship consisting of attorneys, social workers, mental health professionals, professionals with expertise in the aging population, developmental disability professionals, and other interested groups or individuals. The purpose of the Advisory Council is to advise the Office of Public Guardian on the administration of public guardianship and conservatorship.
Additional roles of the Public Guardian will be to collect and report statistical data regarding guardianships and conservatorships; adopt a standard practice and code of ethics for public guardians and conservators; maintain training available for interested parties; promote public awareness of the need for, and responsibilities of, public guardians and conservators; and to prepare a budget for implementation of the Act and acquire funding from public and private sources to carry out the purposes of the Act.
Finally, the Act creates a cash fund to support the purposes of the Act, which will be administered by the Nebraska State Court Administrator.
Ultimately, the Office of Public Guardian would help those in need of a guardian to receive the assistance they need for everyday living. A public guardian would provide assistance with such issues as finding suitable living arrangements, making sure they receive adequate medical care and help with obtaining any public benefits for which they qualify.
Nebraska was one of the few states remaining that had not enacted a Public Guardian law until this year. The Act’s success moving forward likely will depend on 1) the ability to recruit volunteers to serve as public guardians and 2) raising sufficient funds from both public and private sources.