As your parents age, you might be wondering if they need help managing their affairs. You do not want to take away their dignity and independence, but you also do not want to stand by and just let their life savings disappear. There are two legal proceedings that can help you protect your parents - guardianships and conservatorships.
In a guardianship, a judge would have to make a finding that your parent is not capable of making her own decisions. Guardians make arrangements for the person’s day-to-day care and well-being, such as health care, personal care, housing, meals and protection. After the court approves the guardianship, your parent will not have the legal authority to act for herself. In some states, she will have the label of being an “incompetent.” If you want only to protect your parent’s finances, you might consider getting a conservatorship instead of a guardianship. This article will help you in understanding conservatorships.
In a conservatorship, the court gives the conservator the legal authority to handle the person’s finances. The conservator can be an individual or an organization. In some states, a conservatorship can be filed voluntarily, at your parent’s request. The court still has to make a finding that your parent is unable to manage his finances, but it is considered less drastic than a guardianship. Your parent can still make his own non-financial decisions. He loses far less freedom and dignity.
In an urgent situation, the court can appoint a temporary conservator until a general conservator can be appointed. The temporary conservator has limited powers. The temporary conservatorship is for a short time period, usually only a month or two. A temporary conservator cannot be appointed, unless you also file a petition for a general conservator.
Responsibilities of a conservator
If the court appoints you to serve as your parent’s conservator, you will have to manage her financial matters. These duties can include:
- Paying her bills
- Finding and organizing her assets
- Collecting her income (Social Security, pension, and other income)
- Creating a budget for her and evaluating what she can afford
- Protecting her assets
- Prudently investing her money
- Keeping her informed about her financial condition
Conservators must give the court an accounting of their activities on a regular schedule. The court can terminate a conservatorship.
Why the courts terminate conservatorships
There are several reasons why courts terminate conservatorships. Some of these reasons are:
- The conservator is unable or unwilling to continue to serve. If the conservator dies, the conservatorship ends. If he becomes ill or cannot go on serving, the court can allow the conservator to resign.
- If the conservator is not fulfilling his duties, the court can remove him and appoint a replacement conservator.
- When the conservatee dies, the conservator must wrap up the case with the court.
- If the conservator has to spend all of the assets for the care of the conservatee, there is nothing left for the conservator to manage.
- If the conservatee’s condition improves to the point that she is capable of managing her financial affairs again, the court can release the conservator from his responsibilities.
This article discusses the general law. The laws are different in every state. Therefore, please talk with an elder law attorney in your area.
California Courts. “Conservatorship.” (accessed August 8, 2017) http://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-conservatorship.htm
ElderLawAnswers. “Guardianship and Conservatorship.” (accessed August 8, 2017) https://www.elderlawanswers.com/guardianship-and-conservatorship-12096