If you have an adult loved one who needs care or who is not able to handle his or her own finances and personal matters, a conservatorship might be necessary. A conservatorship, explained simply, is similar to a guardianship of a child but it extends to an adult and is generally based upon the person’s finances. There are several reasons why someone might require conservatorship. If you have a loved one in the situation where they need a guardian, read on to learn more about conservatorship and how it can help.
What Does a Conservator Do?
A conservator handles the finances and financial matters of an adult who is unable to do so. Some of the tasks they might do include paying the person’s bills, handling insurance claims after an accident or a medical procedure, and allocate a certain amount of money each month for the person to spend. If the individual lives in an assisted care facility or a nursing home, the conservator will be the one making sure the fees are paid as agreed upon and that the resident has an account set aside for needs that come up.
What Does a Guardian Do?
Sometimes the term “conservator” and “guardian” are used interchangeably. A guardian is usually the person responsible for the day-to-day care of an individual who needs care. They might not provide the care themselves, but they would be the one making decisions about who will provide the care. They will usually also make medical decisions and various legal decisions as long as the individual can’t do it.
Why Might Someone Need a Conservator?
If you have a child with special needs who will continue to need care into adulthood, you might choose to appoint a conservator to handle his or her finances after you are no longer able to. If your life ends before that of your child, then the conservator will usually be the one to handle the portion of your estate that your child inherits. They can also handle any type of trust or account that you or someone else sets up for your adult child.
Another time when someone might need a conservator is if an individual can handle their own care needs but requires someone else to manage his or her money. This might be because they are suffering from dementia or because they have had an accident that caused a brain injury. Some adults with developmental disabilities or learning disabilities might be able to live independently but are not able to handle the tasks of paying bills and arranging for health insurance. These are the types of things that a conservator can do for them.
In some cases, the conservator will be the guardian as well, while in other cases, a separate guardian, if needed, will be appointed. There are times when a guardian is needed but a conservator is not. For example, if the individual has no assets or income but they need someone to make medical and legal decisions for them, then a guardian would be needed but a conservator would not be.
Why the Court Might Become Involved
When parents are choosing a conservator for their adult child who is not capable of caring for him- or herself, there is minimal need to use the court system other than to file the paperwork. This is not necessarily the case when the decision has to be made for an adult who has been independent or for an adult child who could feasibly be independent. In this case, a judge might need to hear the case and make a decision as to whether a person is of sound mind or requires a conservator.
Somebody who is in failing health or suffering from dementia, for example, might not want someone else to take over their legal, medical, and financial decisions, but if they are not fit to make those decisions on their own, a judge might appoint or allow the family to appoint a guardian or conservator.
A judge might also appoint someone to be the conservator if two or more members of the family want to take on the task. One option, if a guardian is needed as well, is to appoint one person the guardian and the other the conservator. In some cases, the judge will choose someone who is not one of the two (or more) people fighting to be the conservator. An effort is made to restore family harmony if it is possible.
Choosing Who to Appoint as Conservator
Whether you are a parent, a grandchild, or someone else with a familial relationship to someone who needs a conservator, it can be difficult to choose someone. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:
- The conservator should be good with their own finances. Someone who does not know how to handle their own money is not in the position to handle the finances of someone else. Try to choose somebody who is not deep in debt, has not recently claimed bankruptcy, and so on.
- The conservator should be known as a person with integrity. You will not likely want to choose a person who has committed fraud or who is known to steal money from his or her relatives. They should be considered a trustworthy, honest person.
- The individual should be willing to learn all of the tasks that go along with the responsibility. Someone might feel overwhelmed at first by being the conservator, so it is important to find someone who is not afraid to learn more about what is required and then to do those tasks to the best of their ability.
Considerations to Keep in Mind
It is common for some people to not like the idea of having a conservator. Independent adults often want to keep their autonomy. Setting up a power of attorney and a living will can help minimize the chances that somebody other than the person specified in the power of attorney can make decisions for the individual. If nobody is specified, usually a judge will choose the person’s spouse, adult child, or sibling to act as conservator. It would be unusual for a person outside of the family to be appointed, but it could happen in some situations.
If you would like more information about conservatorship or other aspects of family law, contact National Family Solutions. We’d be happy to talk to you about your situation to see if we are the best resource to meet your needs.