While our office represents both individuals and private professional fiduciaries who serve as conservators, we would rather work to help prevent the necessity of a conservatorship, if that is feasible.  A conservatorship is a proceeding in the court system where the court appoints someone to be responsible for the care of another person’s living situation (conservatorship of the person) or their finances (conservatorship of the estate) or both when that person is unable take care of those aspects of their life themselves.  This may sound benevolent because the court supervises the physical care of the person and guards their finances, but it also is a financially and emotionally expensive process.

One way to avoid a conservatorship is to have a proper estate plan that allows a person to make a choice about whom they wish to have the authority and responsibility of making sure that their living situation is taken care of and their finances are properly handled, should that become necessary.  If this is not done and a person becomes unable to care for themselves, a family member or the county’s public guardian may be required to file a petition with the court to impose a conservatorship on the person and appoint someone to be responsible for the personal care and financial responsibilities of the incompetent person.  This is an expensive process requiring substantial paperwork to be filed with the court.  The process is so complex that the individual seeking the conservatorship is required to hire an attorney.  The court appoints an independent attorney to represent the person who will be conserved.  These factors alone make the process costly and the person who cannot care for themselves has to bear the financial burden.

The court has an investigator that interviews all parties involved.  If there is reason to object, there may be a trial on whether the conservatorship is needed and this can be an emotionally draining proceeding for all involved.  However, even after a conservator is appointed, the process continues to be supervised by the court and is an on-going expense.  The conservator must account on a regularly scheduled basis to the court.  This continues for the entire time the conservatorship is in effect.

A proper estate plan, employing either a trust or a will and including powers of attorney for financial management and health care, can avoid a conservatorship.  This is an important consideration for our clients in developing a good estate plan.