What is a Conservator?
A conservator is someone the court appoints to oversee the estate and financial affairs of an incapacitated adult.
A conservatorship is usually established for someone who has become cognitively incapacitated due to a medical emergency, or due to dementia, a major stroke, or severe mental illness. Although it can be an emotionally-laden process to decide to pursue conservatorship, it is often the best way to help manage and protect his/her financial affairs.
An adult is determined to be incapacitated by the court if he/she is incapable of receiving and evaluating information effectively, or if the person cannot adequately respond to events, environments or people to such an extent that the person:
- Cannot independently meet essential requirements for care, health, safety, or therapeutic needs
- Cannot provide self support, manage finances or property, and/or provide for legal dependents
Poor judgment or controversial choices are not, on their own, considered sufficient evidence that someone is incapacitated.
An individual’s mental capacity is determined by exam by a medical physician or a psychiatrist, and documentation of the exam findings is provided as evidence to the court.
Conservatorship is established by a court order, and may in some cases be referred to as a “guardianship;” the terms can be used interchangeably, but do not always mean the same thing. When someone is appointed by the court to oversee financial matters, that person is usually referred to as a “conservator of the estate.” Someone who focuses on an individual’s medical and personal decisions is usually referred to as a “conservator of the person,” also known as a “guardian.”
An incapacitated person may need both a conservator to oversee financial concerns and a guardian to attend to personal needs, or the person may just need one of those roles filled. One individual may be placed in both roles, appointed to oversee both a person’s estate as well as his/her personal needs.
In some cases, there may not be a need for a full conservatorship; a limited conservatorship can be put into place for an individual who is functionally disabled, which allows that person to retain a degree of independent control over personal affairs.
A conservator does not have to financially support the conservatee, just manage the conservatee’s own assets and make decisions that are in that person’s best interest. A financial conservator is obligated to seek out all of the financial benefits and coverage which may be available to the conservatee and for which he/she may qualify. Those benefits may include disability benefits, medical insurance, pension and retirement benefits, public assistance, Social Security, Veterans Administration benefits, and Supplemental Security Income. Conservators are advised to work with an estate planning attorney through Hook Law Center to ensure that all available benefits are claimed.
A conservator must oversee the conservatee until the court has issued an order ending their responsibility. The court issues the order when: the conservatee no longer needs the assistance; in the case of a financial conservatorship, the assets are used up;
the conservator resigns or is found to no longer be able to handle the responsibilities involved and someone else is put into place; or the conservatee dies.
Pursuing conservatorship of a loved one, or putting into place a designated conservator as part of your own long-term estate plan, is part of a complex, often emotionally-laden process. Let the experienced estate planning attorneys of Hook Law Center guide you through the process to ensure your wishes will be met and your loved one’s estate is secure.