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Guardianship and Protective Placements

Guardianships and Protective Placement Orders are defined in Wisconsin Statutes Chapters 54 and 55. They are legal methods for appointing an alternative decision-maker and identifying required services for individuals who are legally incompetent. These individuals are usually people with one of the following: developmental disabilities, degenerative brain disorder, serious and persistent mental illness, or other permanent conditions that limit their decision making ability.

While positive outcomes are usually the result of guardianship and/or protective placement orders, these legal processes limit or remove rights to which individuals in our society are normally entitled. Care must be taken to protect each individual's rights while assuring that individuals who are legally incompetent receive the support and services they need.


A guardian is a court-appointed decision-maker for an individual who is not able to make their own decisions, usually based on one of the conditions listed above. The court may appoint the guardian as the guardian of the person, guardian of the person's estate, or both. To proceed with guardianship, a medical doctor or licensed psychologist must complete an examination of the individual, find that the individual is no longer competent and be available to testify if the guardianship is contested. Those interested in becoming a guardian are required to complete a one-time online guardianship training.

Protective Placement

A court can issue orders for a person who has a guardian to be protectively placed. The legal standard says, without the protective placement, the individual is so totally incapable of providing for their own care and well-being, it creates a substantial risk of serious harm to themselves or others.

Protective placement is required for anyone under guardianship who lives in a licensed facility of more than 16 beds. Protective placements must be the least restrictive setting necessary to meet the individual's needs, and are reviewed annually by the court. To help the courts review these placement orders, annual reviews are completed by Emergency Mental Health/APS coordinators for any person who has a court-ordered placement.