Roles and responsibilities of certified professional guardians (CPG)

What is a Certified Professional Guardian (CPG)?

Certified Professional Guardians (CPG’s), are professional fiduciaries appointed by the Courts to protect the legal, social, and medical interests of individuals who require “decisional support” due to cognitive or physical limitations that impede their ability to exercise these rights alone.  

 How the system works:

Because professional guardians are acting in someone else’s interests, standards of practice require them to “act selflessly and with undivided loyalty to the incapacitated person”.

  Once professional guardians are appointed, they may not give their decision-making to another person or agency.

  •  Professional guardians can work as sole practitioners, or as part of an agency. Agencies can employ individuals with legal, financial, and medical backgrounds to assist their clients.
  • Professional guardians develop close personal relationships with their clients, limiting their work to those activities that the Courts have approved. For example, an individual might have trouble paying bills, but be able to live and socialize in the community.

 The statutory oversight of professional guardians is strong in Washington because it provides accountability, transparency, and court oversight, protecting its most vulnerable citizens.

Professional guardians work with Superior Court judges or Court-appointed commissioners to report on their activities and request approval for their decisions.

Professional guardians also are regulated by the Certified Professional Guardian Board, a department of the state Supreme Court.

Roles and responsibilities of professional guardians:

  • The most important legal issue for professional guardians is to recognize that their clients are vulnerable people who have rights.
  •  As one professional guardian explains, “I was testifying in a court case involving exploitation by the family. The Court asked if it wouldn’t be easier to isolate the person from the rest of the world. Yes, it would be easier, but it’s not right. My job is to protect life and preserve rights.”

 The Washington Association of Professional Guardians works to improve their members’ understanding of the law and emerging statutes and educate state lawmakers and others about the work they do.  Members of the Association are successful only if they follow the law and report to the Courts in a timely manner.

  • “Our members are drawn to their roles because of a deep desire to help people. This is not a profession for getting rich, but it is a profession for an enriched life.”

 Most people are not familiar with the role of professional guardians.

  •  The media do not cover the multitude of cases that go well. But reporters have pursued stories shared by an unhappy family member, even if that person was the reason for the professional guardianship appointment in the first place.
  •  Professional guardians are experts in government programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare, staying current on any changes in programs. These are particularly important programs to frail elders and younger individuals with disabilities.

How professional guardians are paid:

  •  Professional guardians’ services are paid through the estate of their clients, under the authority and supervision of the Court.
  •  Professional guardians sometimes work pro bono (for free) if people’s income fall below a level needed to pay for their services. People who have no income and those who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) do not pay for guardians’ services. In those cases, professional guardians may choose to serve at no cost to the clients.

 Case studies:

A 50-something veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder became addicted to drugs and alcohol. Although he had a generous pension from the Veterans’ Administration, his money would last him only a day or two and he would end up living on the street.  The VA took the initiative to petition the Court for a professional guardian who could help the man control his spending. We were able to get him an emergency admission to an assisted living mental health facility. We put him on a weekly allowance. Each time he stayed within his budget, we increased his allowance. Over time, he was able to move into an apartment and reunite with family members he hadn’t seen for years. After a while, he did really well by himself and we told him he didn’t need us any longer. Yes, I do, he said. I need you as a back stop. You saved my life.

KB is a 34-year-old women with an intellectual disability who lives in her own home with a house mate in a supported housing program staffed 24 hours a day. KB required dental treatment under general anesthesia and her dentist did not believe she had the capacity to understand the risks and benefits of the procedure in order to provide informed consent for dental and medical services. The State’s Department of Social and Health Services petitioned the court for a guardian to obtain the necessary information from the medical practitioners; to try and determine KB’s preferences; and if unable to determine her preferences, make a decision in KB’s best interest. KB had no family capable of acting as guardian so the court appointed a professional guardian to provide medical and dental consent on an as-needed basis. As all of KB’s income went towards her housing, food, and essential personal needs, the professional guardian served as KB’s guardian at no cost.

NH is a 23-year-old intellectually disabled adult who was removed from his mother’s home following allegations of abuse in which his mother admitted that she sometimes locked NH in his room because she could not manage his behavior. The State’s Department of Social and Health Services petitioned the court for a guardian to make medical and dental decision on NH’s behalf and best interest. The court did not feel that NH’s mother was capable of acting in this capacity and appointed a professional guardian. This allowed NH, following several months in a state institution, to return to the community in a supported housing program and permitted NH and his mother to engage in a healthier relationship where NH could live more independently and his mother could receive the respite and support necessary to parent her adult son. Since all of NH’s income went towards his housing, food, and personal needs, the professional guardian served as HB’s guardian at no cost. 

CPG’s and What We Do

  • Certified Professional Guardians are appointed and supervised by the Superior Court of each county in the State of Washington. CPGs serve people who have been determined by the court to be incapacitated and are unable to make financial, medical, and residential decisions without the assistance on another person.
  • CPGs are not caregivers or family members, but serve in a professional capacity when family are unable to serve. Some CPGs also provide trust services or act as attorney in fact under a power of attorney when appropriate.
  • CPGs “stand in the shoes” of persons who need assistance. Their professional training prepares them for advocacy and for making tough and complicated decisions. They can provide a first line of defense against exploitation and abuse of vulnerable adults.
  • CPGs typically charge hourly fees for the professional services they provide. CPGs are required to comply with a host of certification requirements, including taking continuing education and carrying errors and omissions insurance. The State’s CPG board offers parameters and oversight of CPGs such as Standards of Practice, Regulations, and Ethics Advisory Opinions.
  • CPGs may serve one or more counties or areas