As a caregiver, you take on the emotional struggles of day-to-day life, but you must also deal with the practical, everyday tasks of making sure everything is up and running. If your loved one cannot provide for his or her own personal needs (e.g., dressing, bathing, clothing, medication management) or manage his own financial resources (e.g., pay bills, manage a checkbook), then as a caregiver, you become responsible for all these tasks.

Although you may be willing to take on this responsibility, you may not have legal authority to do so. When it comes to financial tasks, you typically need legal documentation that shows you have authority. This authority is granted through a Durable Power of Attorney. If your loved one did not plan ahead, and they are no longer able to make a Durable Power of Attorney because they are incapacitated, then you will need to proceed with the conservatorship process.

A conservatorship is a protective court proceeding where a court appoints an agent (a conservator) to oversee an incapacitated person’s (a conservatee’s) financial matters and/or their medical decisions.

The court looks for objective evidence that someone really needs a conservatorship by sending a court investigator to interview the proposed conservatee and his/her family. The court also requires that a capacity declaration, an assessment completed by the proposed conservatee’s doctor, be completed. Finally, the court considers testimony by the proposed conservator.

While the conservatorship process is effective, it costs precious time and money. Costs to consider in conservatorship proceedings include:

A court hearing to appoint a conservator will take at least 10-15 weeks from the date you request the hearing.  Finally, to start the conservatorship process, there are more than 25 forms required by the Court.  These forms are time consuming to complete and require a careful attention—checking the wrong box on these forms can have unintended consequences.

Conservatorships require ongoing administration. If the Court appoints you as a conservator, you get Letters of Conservatorship, which give you the authority to act for your loved one.  If you are managing finances for the conservatee, you must tell the Court what you have done with the money on an annual basis, which is called an accounting.  Additionally, you must inform the court if you plan to move your loved one to a different address.  Keep in mind; any time you must deal with the Court, there are fees involved and piles of paperwork.

When someone you care about is sick, you do not want to have to go through a conservatorship process; more importantly you don’t want to make your family go through such an ordeal.

Ensure that you plan for incapacity—make sure that your estate planning documents have language that allows your family and/or friends to act on your behalf if you are not able to do so.  Finally, if you think a friend or family member needs a conservatorship, please consult an attorney.

The Law Offices of Lisa C. Bryant is happy to answer questions you may have about the conservatorship process. We also encourage you and your loved ones to plan for incapacity. We offer a no-cost consultation to discuss your estate planning options, including powers of attorney.

All materials have been prepared for general information purposes only to permit you to learn more about our firm, our services and the experience of our attorneys. The information presented is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, and may be subject to change without notice.