The Office of Corporation Counsel assists Adult Protective Services in pursuing court ordered guardianships and protective services or placement for adults-at-risk. An adult-at-risk is anyone over the age of 17 years and 9 months who has a physical or mental condition that substantially impairs their ability to provide for their own care and is at risk of being abused, neglected or financially exploited by others. Depending on the individual’s circumstances, we may pursue appointment of a temporary or permanent guardian, emergency and temporary protective services or placement, and permanent protective services or placement. The standard for both guardianship and protective services/placement is “least restrictive” to meet the individual’s needs as these legal actions result in restrictions of personal liberty and legal rights.

What is an adult guardianship case?

Adult guardianship cases are governed by Ch. 54 of the Wisconsin Statutes. The court may only appoint a guardian for an adult who is deemed “incompetent” as that term is defined by statute. In order to be deemed incompetent, a person must have an impairment due to developmental disability, serious and persistent mental illness, degenerative brain disorder or other capacities like these that are permanent in nature. Further, the person’s incapacity must impair them to the extent that they are unable to provide for their own physical health and safety needs or effectively manage their finances. The law requires that the person be examined by a physician or psychologist regarding the nature of the person’s incapacity and its duration in support of a guardianship petition. Once a guardianship is established, it continues for the life of the person (referred to as the “ward”) unless they regain competency. Guardianships can be reviewed or modified by petitioning the court. Guardians have statutory duties and must file annual reporting with the Registrar in Probate. Our Office assists Adult Protective Services in removing guardians who are not performing statutory duties or are abusing, neglecting or financially exploiting their wards.

For additional information, please see Chapter 54, Wis. Stats.

What are protective services or protective placement?

The protective service system is governed by Ch. 55 of the Wisconsin Statutes. It is designed to provide court ordered protection of vulnerable adults at risk for abuse, financial exploitation, neglect or self-neglect with the least possible restriction on personal liberty and exercise of constitutional rights. The threshold requirement for court ordered protective services or placement is that a person be deemed incompetent, therefore a guardianship petition must accompany a protective services/placement petition unless the person is already under a court ordered guardianship. The petition must be supported by a comprehensive evaluation prepared by Adult Protective Services. A protective service is any type of service designed or provided to keep an incompetent individual safe from abuse, financial exploitation, neglect or self-neglect. Protective placement is a physical placement made to provide for the residential care and custody of an incompetent individual. The law requires that all court ordered protective placements be reviewed on an annual basis. An annual review is initiated by Adult Protective Services filing a petition for review by the first day of the 11th month from the date of the most current protective placement order. The court then appoints a guardian ad litem to review the Adult Protective Services petition and annual review, meet with the ward and report back to the court. If the guardian, guardian ad litem or ward request changes or termination of the protective placement order, a due process hearing will take place. Attorneys from Corporation Counsel assist Adult Protective Services in conducting their case at the hearing.

For additional information, please see Chapter 55, Wis. Stats.

What is the role of the Office of Corporation Counsel in adult guardianship cases?

The Office of Corporation Counsel works with Adult Protective Services to pursue appropriate legal actions to protect vulnerable adults who are incompetent. Legal actions include the initial establishment of guardianship and protective services/placement, as well as subsequent actions involving modification or termination of guardianship or protective/services orders, review of guardian conduct, change of venue, and transfer of guardianships to and from the state of Wisconsin.

By statute, Corporation Counsel is an interested party in all adult guardianship cases filed in Marathon County and we may involve ourselves in third party cases. We may also become involved at the request of Adult Protective Services when there are issues involving their reports and investigations – especially the use and release of confidential records.

Who do I contact about adults-at-risk?

If you believe an adult is at risk for abuse, financial exploitation, neglect or self-neglect or know someone with cognitive impairments that may be in need of guardianship and protective services or placement, you can contact Adult Protective Services at 715-841-5160 or 1-855-487-3338 (toll free), or contact your local law enforcement agency.

If the abuse, exploitation or neglect is in another county, contact information is available at Adult Protective Services - Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

To report abuse, exploitation or neglect taking place outside the state of Wisconsin, contact information is available at the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA).

To learn more on these matters, please visit the Adults-at-Risk links on our Community Resouces page.