You have been assigned as a conservator of a person or estate – now what? How is the role defined? What does it do? What are the expectations? These are some of the basic questions that will be covered in this article.
This is not meant to be a do-it-yourself guide to conservatorship. Just a quick introduction to one of the most serious and complex roles that you will undertake. You will most likely be needing the help of a lawyer in order to navigate the legal process which is critical to becoming a successful Conservator.
First, what does Conservatorship mean?
Under U.S. law, conservatorship is the appointment of a guardian or a protector by a judge to manage the financial affairs and/or daily life of another person due to old age or physical or mental limitations. A person under conservatorship is a “conservatee”, a term that can refer to an adult.
Who Needs Conservatorship?
Many elderly people (and some younger people) who are mentally or physically disabled, whether permanently or temporarily – need some form of conservatorship to live the best life possible.
Some conservatees can no longer shop for food or cook; others need help bathing and dressing. Some need medical care or help cleaning the house. Others can’t drive and need help getting around. Some conservatees are isolated and need social activities and contact with other people.
Other conservatees can’t keep track of their money or remember to pay their bills. Some give away large sums of money to their relatives, people they think are friends, or even strangers; others need help managing their investments.
What are the types of Conservatorship?
1. General Conservatorships are for adults who can’t handle their own finances or care for themselves. These conservatees are often older people with limitations caused by aging, but they also may be younger people who have been seriously impaired—as the result of an auto accident, for example.
2. Limited Conservatorships are for adults with developmental disabilities who cannot fully care for themselves or their property, but who do not need the higher level of care or help given under a general conservatorship. Developmental disabilities include mental retardation, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and autism that began before age 18. They also include conditions that are similar to mental retardation or that require similar treatment. For someone with more extensive developmental disabilities, the court may decide to appoint a general conservator.
3. Temporary Conservatorships may be necessary when a person needs immediate help, usually during the time between the filing of a petition for appointment of a general or limited conservator and the court hearing on that petition. A judge may appoint a temporary conservator of the person or of the estate, or both, for a specific period until a general or limited conservator can be appointed. A temporary conservator arranges for temporary care, protection, and support of the conservatee, and protection of the conservatee’s property from loss or damage, during the limited period of his or her appointment.
What is a Conservator?
A conservator is an individual or organization, chosen through a legal process, to protect and manage the personal care or finances—or both—of a person who has been found by a judge or a jury to be unable to manage his or her own affairs. That person is called the conservatee.
Who can be appointed as a Conservator?
A conservator might be the conservatee’s wife, husband, domestic partner, daughter, son, mother, father, brother, sister, other relative, or friend. If there is no suitable relative or friend who is willing or able to serve, the conservator might be a professional fiduciary or a county agency called a public guardian or public conservator.
How Do You Work with the Conservatee?
Let the conservatee have as much independence as he or she can handle. You should involve the conservatee as much as possible in your decisions. When you must decide for the conservatee, try to make choices that respect the conservatee’s stated preferences, personal independence, dignity, and lifestyle.
Remember, though, that in the end, you are the decision maker, and the court will hold you responsible.
What is the core responsibility of a Conservator?
The court and the conservatee are trusting you as a conservator, to follow the law and to act in the conservatee’s best interests. You should make choices that align with the conservatee’s capabilities and wishes; that support, encourage, and assist the conservatee.
As a conservator, you are authorized to make many decisions for the conservatee, but there are situations that may require you to ask the court for instructions or for approval before you act. Your lawyer will help you prepare and file a petition whenever you need or want to ask for court approval for a specific action.
What are your duties as Conservator of the Estate?
- You manage the conservatee’s finances.
- You locate and take control of the conservatee’s assets.
- You collect income due the conservatee.
- You make a budget to show what the conservatee can afford.
- You pay the conservatee’s bills.
- You invest the conservatee’s money.
- You protect the conservatee’s assets.
- You account to the court and to the conservatee for your manage- ment of the conservatee’s assets.
What are your duties as Conservator of a Person’s Assets?
- Locate and take control of the assets and make sure they are adequately protected against loss.
- Make an inventory of the assets for the court.
- Collect all of the conservatee’s income and other money due and
apply for government benefits to which the conservatee is entitled.
- Make a budget for the conservatee, working with the conservator of the person, or if there isn’t one, working with the conservatee or his or her caregiver.
- Pay the conservatee’s bills and expenses on time and in line with the budget you have made.
- Keep track of how a trustee, spouse or domestic partner, or other party is managing any of the conservatee’s assets in his or her control.
- Invest the estate assets and income in safe investments that will meet the conservatee’s needs and the court’s requirements. You should consult with your lawyer concerning any investments of the conservatorship estate. Some investments require prior court approval or may not be authorized under any circumstances.
- Periodically account to the court and to other interested persons about income coming into the estate, expenditures, and the remaining conservatorship property.
- Prepare a final report and accounting of the estate when the conservatorship ends.
- Distribute the conservatee’s property remaining in your hands to the conservatee, if he or she has been restored to capacity; to a successor conservator appointed by the court if you resign or are removed as conservator; or to the personal representative of the conservatee’s decedent estate or other successor in interest, if he or she has died.
What are the Rights of the Conservatee?
1. The Right to Question – The conservatee has the right to ask questions, to express concerns and complaints about the conservatorship and your actions as conservator.
2. The Right to Take Court Action – The conservatee may ask the court to review your handling of the conservatorship if disputes can’t be worked out between you.
Even if the conservatee does not take direct action, the court will periodically send a court investigator to see the conservatee, to inquire about his or her circumstances and desires, and to advise the conservatee of his or her rights. The court may also appoint a lawyer to represent the conservatee.
3. The Right to Personal Freedoms – The conservatee keeps the right to exercise “personal rights,” including—but not limited to—the right to receive visitors, telephone calls, and personal mail (unless these rights are specifically limited by court order).
4. The Right to Enforce Rights – The conservatee can grant you the power to enforce their rights against others—for example, the administrators of a care facility where the conservatee resides.
How do you apply as a Conservator?
Before you may begin to handle the conservatee’s affairs, you must take certain steps to qualify as a conservator
1. Completing a Letter of Conservatorship, a document stating the terms and conditions of the conservatorship
2. Signing an acknowledgment that you received a statement describing the duties and liabilities of the office of conservator,
3. Obtaining a bond, when one is required (a bond is required in most cases to guarantee proper performance of the duties of the conservator of the estate)
4. Signing an oath, or affirmation, that you will perform your duties as conservator according to the law (this affirmation is part of the Letters of Conservatorship); and
filing these papers with the court clerk
5. Securing a hearing date with a judge who must approve and sign the documents in order to make your appointment as Conservator official.
We understand that your decision to become a Conservator is not an easy one to make. We at Crider Law can hold your hand through this process by first giving you the right tools and information. Book your free consultation meeting and we’ll help you apply for conservatorship as timely and as efficiently as possible.