Under various state laws, a conservator is a person who the court appoints to care for a minor or individual who is incapacitated by illness or accident. The act of assuming these types of responsibilities and duties of a conservator is known as conservatorship.
Conservators are granted many different rights and responsibilities under the law. They can be extremely useful in situations where a person is not legally able to take care of themselves or make certain decisions.
Depending on state laws, there may be many different types of conservatorships. Each of these are associated with different duties and responsibilities. These may include:
- Conservator of the Person: A “conservator of the person” is someone who is given the legal right to make decisions about the person’s day-to-day life. This can include a broad range of responsibilities. Thus, the party that is selected to be a conservator of the person should be someone who is familiar with the day-to-day needs of the person they are responsible for watching. This can include decisions such as:
- Handling any special care arrangements;
- Deciding where the person will live;
- Taking charge of health care choices; and
- Arranging for personal care and food and other provisions.
- Conservator of the Estate: A “conservator of the estate” is given legal rights to handle and manage financial affairs and make financial decisions on behalf of the person they are representing.
- The court generally oversees these dealings, and the conservator needs to obtain authorization for certain transactions, such as selling property or signing a contract. Also, the conservator may be required to purchase a bond that acts as insurance over the assets of the estate they are responsible for.
- Both: Depending on the person’s needs, a conservator can often be named either a conservator of the person, a conservator of the estate, or both. Based on the situation, it may be simpler to name one person to act as both types of conservator.
Typically, courts will appoint a family member to act as the conservator. However, if no family members are suitable or available, then the judge may appoint a different person.
A conservator will generally control a person’s affairs as long as needed. If the individual reaches the age of majority, or recovers enough to take care of their own affairs, then the conservatorship will usually end or expire. Also, if all of the assets connected the conservatorship are used up, then the conservatorship of the estate will end. Otherwise, a conservatorship will usually end immediately upon death.
Conservators and conservatorships can often be linked with various types of legal conflicts, disputes, and issues. This can be somewhat unsurprising given the tremendous amount of legal responsibility the conservator has in connection with the other person. Various types of legal issues can arise, including:
- A failure to perform the duties properly by the conservator;
- Instances of fraud or misrepresentation by the conservator (for instance, using the person’s name to sign documents without their permission);
- Misuse of conservatorship funds, usually for the conservator’s personal gain or purposes;
- Disputes over who should serve as a conservator; and
- Various violations of conservatorship laws.
Disputes over conservatorship issues can be complex, as they may involve several different laws and many different people. Remedies for such cases can involve damages awards and other legal remedies. For example, if the conservator misused the funds, then they will probably be required to pay back the amount they took.
If there is a reason to remove a conservator, either for one of the reasons above or for any other valid reason, then the person looking to remove the conservator must petition the court. However, remember that a valid reason is required and a conservator cannot be removed simply because an involved person does not like them. Also, the person petitioning for the removal (the petitioner) must be an “interested party”, as in they cannot be some random person but a person related or has an established relationship as required by the local laws.
Once a petition is filed, the petitioner must give evidence and proof to show why the conservator should be removed. The probate court will decide what to do and if they believe the petitioner has a strong argument and has proven their case, then the conservator will be removed and a new one will be put in place.
Choosing the right person to act as conservator is a very important decision. Since a conservator will be authorized to make major legal decisions on your behalf, you will want to select a person who is trustworthy and who knows the ins and outs of your preferences.
If you have any questions or disputes regarding conservatorship laws, an estate lawyer can provide you with valuable legal advice. They will also be able to represent you in court if you need to file a lawsuit involving a conservatorship dispute.