Once an individual no longer has the capacity to make lucid decisions about their personal, financial or legal wellbeing, respective institutions will put a “freeze” on all assets and decision making. This serves to protect the patient from unscrupulous/malicious behavior.
When this happens, the court may appoint someone to be a conservator.
Who is a Conservator?
The conservator is a person appointed by the court to conserve the assets of another individual.
The conservatorship will involve assuming legal responsibilities of a person’s affairs after the court deems them as gravely disabled and are not able to meet their basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing. A conservator’s roles may vary from state to state with other jurisdictions referring to them as ‘guardians’ or ‘trustees.’
Conservatorship is typically employed for people with severe mental illnesses and is gravely disabled, or seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia; or persons with developmental disabilities.
The person under conservatorship is referred to as a ward.
What are the duties of a conservator?
- To determine the status of the estate and other physical property.
As a conservator, you will need to decide whether to buy, hold, or sell real estate and tangible property. For instance, you could decide to sell their car, so you can purchase a properly equipped vehicle that will serve their needs better. You might sell the ward’s property to get the necessary cash to facilitate their care.
- Management and investment their liquid assets.
- Pay their bills and file their income tax returns.
You will need to ensure the ward’s bills – personal and medical – are paid. Also, you will have to prepare and file their income tax returns while paying their taxes.
- Decide where they’ll live and arrange for the appropriate care.
As the conservator, you may decide to have the ward live in a full care facility, assisted care facility, or a home. Also, you will decide who will be responsible for meeting the ward’s medical and personal needs.
- Regularly asking for the court’s approval.
The conservatorship laws will vary between states; nonetheless, a conservator is required to acquire court approval to enforce many of their roles and responsibilities. Sensitive decisions such as selling the ward’s estate will need court approval.
Court Supervision of Conservators
To ensure that the incapacitated individual’s assets are well managed, the ward’s bills are paid, under court supervision. Even though a conservator is afforded authority over the ward’s assets, there are some restrictions.
- The incapacitated person’s participation – If it is possible, the ward should be allowed in on the decision-making process.
- Annual reporting – The court requires the conservator to provide annual reports that account for how the ward’s assets were used, and the expenditures made on the estate’s behalf.
- Periodic Review – The court shall regularly hold hearings to review the conservatorship. Some proceedings will require the conservator or other witnesses to appear and give evidence.
- Approval of major transactions – There are instances, such as selling a piece of the ward’s estate, that require special approval by the court.
Ending of a conservatorship
The duties of a conservator can be terminated by the court that appointed them. Typically, a conservatorship is ended if the ward is able to recover from their incapacitation to a degree where a conservator is no longer needed. Also, the death of the ward will end the conservatorship.
Nevertheless, the court may find reasons to end a conservatorship. They include:
- The Ward’s wishes – The incapacitated individual may express their objection of their conservator. Following the court’s review, it may sustain the objections and find a replacement for the conservator.
- Resignation – The conservator may decide to be relieved off this legal duty. The court will appoint another conservator.
- Misconduct or Neglect of Duty – Upon examining the conservator’s inactions or actions, the court may decide to replace the conservator. Typical reasons include inaccuracies in the contents of accounting and reports submitted by the conservator, or failure to submit these documents.
- Third Party Objections – At times, a third party may appeal to the court to have the conservator replaced. The court will then review their petition and see if the claims are factual. If they are, the conservator typically faces replacement. For instance, if financial misconduct or mismanagement is detected, the conservatorship is terminated.
This is where the conservator’s legal responsibilities over the affairs of the ward are limited. It occurs if the ward is still capable of making important decisions for themselves. Thus, the ward still has control over their personal affairs. The conservator’s job, in this case, is to marshal the funds for the ward’s requirements.
Typically, your status as a conservator will remain in effect up until the ward dies. The conservatorship will then end unless the conservator successfully applies to become a personal representative of the estate at the court. The conservatorship could also end sooner if the ward or third parties ask for a change.