In the News: What Is a Guardianship? Understanding the Wendy Williams Story

A new documentary series about the famous TV host revealed a lot and raised questions for many around what exactly a guardianship is.
Updated July 18, 2024
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The four-part docuseries “Where Is Wendy Williams?” recently finished its run on Lifetime, and though it answered a few questions about the beloved talk show host's current situation, it left viewers scratching their heads on more than a few points.

The documentary focused on Williams’ guardianship, an arrangement that’s been in place since 2022, when Wells Fargo brought up concerns about her ability to make sound judgments — but what does that mean?

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What’s going on with Wendy Williams?

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From her iconic pink chair, Williams ruled the daytime talk circuit for almost a decade. Between her irreverent takes on celebrity gossip, her A-list guest roster, and her sometimes controversial style, she became a household name. So it shocked some when she announced her departure from the show rather abruptly back in 2022.

Since then, stories of addiction and erratic behavior have run rampant, and Williams has been noticeably absent from the spotlight. The new docuseries aimed to shed light on where she’d been, what she’s doing now, and how (or if) she can revitalize her career.

Since the show ended, rumors have swirled about Williams’ health and plans for the future. The documentary, which some people have described as exploitative, followed Williams, her team, and her family and ended with Williams being admitted to a medical facility for treatment for primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

What is a guardianship?

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The guardianship played a significant role in the documentary series, but what exactly does it mean to be under guardianship?

A guardianship is a legal arrangement put in place by the court when an adult has been determined to be unable to make decisions for themselves. Guardianships can happen for a number of reasons, but most commonly, they’re due to decreased mental fitness in situations of mental illness or age-related cognitive decline.

In Williams's case, guardianship was requested by Wells Fargo because they believed that she had become a victim of financial exploitation due to her diminished cognitive ability. 

During guardianship, the protected person is assigned a legal representative, or guardian, who oversees varying degrees of legal, financial, and personal decision-making. That person has the authority to make decisions for the person, for the person’s estate, or for the person and the person’s estate, depending on the type of guardianship ordered by the court.

Guardianships that cover only the person focus on that person’s physical and emotional safety and well-being, while estate guardianships cover financial decision-making and are the only person allowed to sell or spend any of the protected person’s assets.

Why would a guardianship be necessary?

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Guardianships can be put in place for a number of reasons, but most commonly, they are court-ordered when a person is shown to have a diminished capacity to care for themselves and make sound decisions.

Guardianships are common in elder care situations where an elderly parent who lives with cognitive dysfunction cannot care for themselves or make safe financial decisions. People with severe mental illness or other incapacitating conditions may also be placed under guardianship.

How does a guardianship end?

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Adult guardianships can only end if the protected person dies or the court steps in to stop the guardianship.

If the protected person or their family believes a court-appointed guardian is not performing satisfactorily or if the person has recovered their ability to make decisions for themselves, they can approach the court and ask for a termination.

Bottom line

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Guardianships are ultimately put in place to protect a person with a diminished capacity to make decisions. They can be ended, but only by court order and only if the court has sufficient reason to believe the protected person’s best interests aren’t being considered.

A guardianship covers all decisions a person may make, both financial and personal, whereas a conservatorship is strictly to check up on financial health.

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