With conservatorships in the news, you might be wondering: What exactly is a conservatorship? And why should you care?
Whether used to make health-care decisions for an aging parent or to take over the finances of an incapacitated relative, conservatorships can be a powerful legal tool.
So when is a conservatorship appropriate? To help you learn more, here are five basic questions and answers about conservatorships:
1. What Is the Difference Between a Conservatorship and a Guardianship?
Depending on which state you live in, a conservatorship and guardianship may be two names for essentially the same thing.
In some states, a guardianship refers to the authority to manage the affairs of children, while a conservatorship is the adult version of guardianship. In other states, such as Oregon, a guardian is appointed to make personal and health care decisions while a conservator is appointed to make financial decisions.
2. For Whom are Conservators Usually Appointed?
Conservatorships are typically involved in situations in which a person can no longer manage his or her own decisions, whether as a result of illness, old age, or mental defect.
A conservator is appointed and supervised by the court, which grants only limited powers over the affairs of the conservatee. The appointment may be permanent, although in some states, such as Michigan, it is subject to yearly review.
3. What Does a Conservator Do?
Depending on the powers granted by the laws of the state and the judge in each individual case, a conservator may manage either financial matters, personal matters (such as healthcare and living arrangements), or often both. In California, a conservator for financial matters is typically called a "conservator of the estate," while one for personal matters is known as a "conservator of the person."
4. Can You Avoid Being Placed Under a Conservatorship?
There are steps you can take to make sure that if you are ever incapacitated by illness or age that you will not need to have a conservator appointed. These include having a power of attorney for healthcare along with a living will. These documents can be completed either on your own or with the help of an estate planning attorney.
5. Where Can You Learn More?
Because conservatorship laws vary from state to state, the most definitive way to learn more is to look up your state's codes and statutes. Your local courthouse may also have free information about conservatorship laws in your jurisdiciton.
For more personal guidance, you may want to consult an experienced family law attorney who can answer your questions and help you figure out if a conservatorship is right for you.