December 18, 2014
Authored by: Luke Lantta
Guardians are given a lot of powers and rights, but those powers and rights are not unfettered. In In re Estate of Sierra Leigh Wertzer, the Georgia Court of Appeals determined that Georgia probate courts have the authority to enter orders establishing visitation schedules for a ward, over the objection of the ward’s guardian.
In this case, the ward’s mother and father had divorced, and a visitation schedule had been established in the divorce proceedings. When the ward was about to turn 18 years of age, the mother sought to be appointed as the guardian and conservator. The father sought to continue and extend the visitation he had been granted in the divorce proceedings. The mother was appointed as guardian and conservator and objected to the father’s request for visitation, contending that the probate court could not “force” the adult ward to visit her father. The appellate court, however, found that a probate court could establish visitation over the guardian’s objection because a probate court can enter orders to protect a ward’s rights and best interests. This will sometimes occur over a guardian’s objection.
Although the mother framed the issue as one of “forcing” visitation, the court stated that there was no evidence that the ward directly expressed that she did not wish to visit with her father. In addition, the guardian ad litem for the ward and the ward’s court appointed attorney both recommended that visitation continue. The court, therefore, expressly stated that its opinion should not be read as establishing any precedent on whether a probate court could “force” an adult ward to visit with someone against the ward’s expressed wishes.