SeniorLAW Center

Access to Justice in Guardianship


Adult guardianship occurs when a court decides that an adult individual does not have “legal capacity” to address his/her own basic needs, such as managing money or staying safe and healthy. The court will then appoint another person – a guardian – to make decisions for the individual. Guardianship is a very restrictive legal arrangement that takes away an individual’s basic rights and ability to make the most important decisions of life. As a result, it should be the last resort when someone needs help.

According to a 2020 report, Pennsylvania has over 18,400 adults living under guardianship. More than half of those adults are age 60 and over. Pennsylvania court records also show that several thousand new guardianship cases are filed each year. A 2013 analysis from our partners at the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE) found that people who are facing a court-imposed guardianship are often not present at the court hearing, and/or do not have a lawyer to help them. In Pennsylvania, there is no automatic right to counsel for those facing guardianship or under guardianship. After a guardian is appointed, it can be hard to find legal help if the individual is unhappy with the guardian, is being abused, exploited, or neglected, or believes a guardian is no longer needed.

SeniorLAW Center’s Access to Justice in Guardianship Project has been created to respond to these issues. The project is generously sponsored by the Independence Foundation through its Public Interest Fellowship program. Valerie L. Snow, Esq., a 2020 graduate of University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, leads this project at SeniorLAW Center.


    • Represent eligible Philadelphia seniors facing guardianship proceedings in Orphans’ Court.
    • Help Philadelphia seniors who already have a court-appointed guardian but are experiencing abuse or exploitation by the guardian or wish to limit or end the guardianship.
    • Provide advice, information, and referrals through our PA SeniorLAW HelpLine for individuals age 60 and older in Pennsylvania with guardianship issues.
    • Advocate for changes to state law and local court rules to better protect the rights of older adults involved in guardianships.
    • Educate the public about less-restrictive alternatives to guardianship and the legal rights that exist for people facing guardianship or who already have guardians.
    • Please note: As advocates for those facing or under guardianship, SeniorLAW Center does not petition for guardianship over older adults or provide advice about how to become a guardian. For more information about this project or SeniorLAW Center’s services in the guardianship area, please click our Access Services link at the bottom of the page.