What is a "Conservatorship"
and How Does It Work?
by George F. Dickerman, Attorney at Law
Many of us know a friend or loved one who is becoming more and more forgetful. We often poke fun at ourselves by calling these absent-minded moments a "senior moment." But when memory loss becomes a persistent occurrence, and begins to create problems, it is no longer a joking matter.
The warning signs of trouble may include unpaid bills, notices from bill collectors, utilities being shut off, unopened mail, property taxes overdue, and lack of personal grooming or an unkempt house. These warning signs may indicate that a conservatorship may be needed.
A conservatorship is a court proceeding that grants one (or more) person(s) the authority to make financial or health care decisions for another because of a mental or physical incapacity that renders a person unable to make informed and sound decisions. A conservatorship can be over the person, the estate, or both.
The person who is appointed by the court to make decisions is called the conservator, and the person about whom decisions will be made is called the conservatee. Conservators are generally family members or may be a professional conservatorship company. In some cases, the Public Guardian's office may be appointed.
Regardless of who the conservator is, their duty is to act solely in the best interests of the conservatee. To insure this, court evaluation, supervision and monitoring of the conservatorship is established. In appropriate cases, the court may appoint an attorney to represent the interests of the conservatee. A court investigator is often assigned to interview the proposed conservatee and provide the court with a written report.
A conservatorship over the person is recommended when a proposed conservatee is unable to provide for his or her own food, clothing, and shelter. If appointed, a conservator over the person will have the authority to make decisions which might include where the conservatee will live, how the conservatee will be clothed and fed, and may include the power to make medical decisions.
A conservatorship over the estate provides the conservator with authority to make financial decisions. The conservatee's property will be inventoried and appraised and reports will be provided to the court. A bond may be required to protect the assets of the conservatee.
Even when it is obvious that a person needs help, a conservatorship may not be the proper procedure. If a properly executed durable power of attorney was created before any signs of mental incapacity developed, then the "agent" named in the power of attorney may be able to handle all of the financial decision-making tasks without the need for a conservatorship. Likewise, a power of attorney for health care decisions may eliminate the need for court intervention.
Dickerman is a private elder law attorney. For more information on other elder
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