Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Conservatorships...What, why, who, and how to prevent them


A conservatorship is when someone is legally appointed to be responsible for the financial affairs of another person who has been legally deemed to be unable to manage their financial affairs for him or herself. (Also known as guardianship of the “estate” – typically as it may relate to minor children vs. guardianship of the “person”)


In many situations, a person may still be physically or mental able to care for themselves on a day to day basis, yet due to decreasing health, disability, judgment, etc, they may need help managing their finances. Examples may include, but are not limited to:

Persons with physical or mental condtions that prevent them from managing their own
financial affairs;

Persons who have legal authority to take over responsibility for them; and

When other forms of help with financial management will not adequately protect them.


A conservator is typically appointed through probate court proceedings. A petition must be filed with the probate court by anyone who has a concern for an individual's financial well-being.

The petitioner has a buden to prove the individual is unable to manage their financial affairs on their own supported by medical and/or other sworn statements with any other supporting evidence. There is generally a court hearing, and if there is a contest by the allegedly incompetent individual and/or as to who hould be appointed as the conservator, the case will typically go to trail.

Once appointed, a conservator assumes financial management for the conservatee and generally receives compensation for performing these duties. This compensation is overseen by the court and is paid from the assets of the incompetent individual. The conservator will be also be responsible to account for all expenditures, and for the assets of the estate, typically on an annual basis or more frequently if ordered by the court.

If the legally incapacitated person is capable of participating in financial decisions, the conservator is ordinarily required to permit the legally incapacitated person to participate to the extent he or she is able. In some circumstances, a court may appoint a conservator to perform a certain set of tasks which are beyond the ability of the legally incapacitated person, while permitting that person to manage his or her own affairs for other financial tasks which remain within his or her ability.


The court supervises the conservator's actions by requiring that permission be obtained in advance of certain major transactions (i.e. home sales, withdrawal of retirement investments, etc), and through annual accountings, in order to ensure that the legally incapacitated person's assets are being properly managed, bills are being paid, nobody is misappropriating funds, and the estate is not being wasted.


A conservatorship can be terminated by the court which created it. This ordinarily happens if the legally incapacitated person recovers from the incapacity that necessitated the conservatorship. A particular conservator's role may be terminated by the court or by resignation, in which case the court will ordinarily appoint a successor conservator to take over management of the legally incapacitated person's assets. A conservatorship also ends upon the death of the legally incapacitated person.


Through proper estate planning, a general or springing durable power of attorney will allow you to appoint someone you trust (as well as some alternates) to manage your financial affairs in the event of your incapacity or incompetency. These powers may be broad or limited in scope. For example, you may name one person to manage all of your personal financial affairs and another person to manage business affairs on your behalf if the need arises. You may also leave some powers to be controlled by a court for additional protection if you so desire. With a properly executed power of attorney with nominated agents and conservators, those persons nominated by you may not have to seek appointment by the court in the event of your incapacity or incompetency.

Additionally, when assets are placed in a living trust, the sucessor trustee also has power to manage your affairs in the event of incapacity, for which a will alone does not provide.

Disclaimer:The information provided is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to your particular issue or problem. Use of this information or any related information does not create an attorney-client relationship between Amy Alvis and/or Living Trusts by Amy. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual authors and does not reflect the opinions of any firm or attorney.

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