A conservatorship, sometimes called a guardianship, is for people who have become incapacitated and don’t already have a plan in place. If your parents or older loved ones are still mentally capable to make decisions about future healthcare and finances, see that they create legal documents such as a durable power of attorney for finances, a durable power of attorney for healthcare and a living will, along with a will and/or a trust – as soon as possible.
But what if it’s too late for your parents or loved ones? What if there are no documents regarding their wishes and they have become incapacitated, unable to take care of themselves or their finances? That’s when a conservatorship is probably the best plan.
Six Steps to Appointing a Conservator for an Elder
- Talk to a lawyer about your state’s requirements.
- File a petition with the court that states why the person needs a conservator, and who the conservator should be.
- A medical or psychological exam may be necessary.
- Proceeding notices are given to the elder in question and other interested parties, such as family members.
- A lawyer may be appointed to represent the elder, or the elder may hire a lawyer.
- The judge will hear the evidence and make a decision based on the best interests of the elder.
It’s a Big Job
If you’ve been appointed as a conservator or guardian, your responsibilities will be outlined by the judge. Sometimes a guardian will make most decisions for the elder. In other situations, the elder will still keep the right to make some decisions. It’s important that you have a clear understanding of where your responsibilities lie – and where they don’t. In some cases, a different guardian will have authority over finances or property (a guardian of the estate), while another will be in charge of personal affairs (a guardian of the person). Even so, any type of guardianship is a huge responsibility that can be extremely time consuming. (Although, if you’ve been the primary caregiver, you may have already taken on many, if not all, of these jobs long ago.)The guardian should be someone who is both trustworthy and capable. In some cases, the court may appoint a professional guardian.
A guardian of the estate might:
- Set up and maintain bank accounts.
- Manage and pay bills.
- Keep detailed records.
- Invest funds.
- Be held accountable by the court.
- Maintain property and/or business.
A guardian of the person might:
- Make appropriate living arrangements.
- Consent to medical procedures and treatments.
- Arrange for physical, speech, and/or occupational therapy.
- See to activities of daily living, or arrange for ADL care.
- Visit frequently (if not living in the same house.)