Conservatorship: How to Know If It’s Right for an Older Adult in Your Life

Have you been worried about your mom, dad, or another older adult in your life? Perhaps they seem a little more confused lately, or you’ve noticed them making some questionable decisions. Maybe they’ve even been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, or another condition that affects the way their brain functions.
You’re concerned about their ability to manage their illnesses, finances, and other important matters. You’ve been looking into legal options, and now you want to know more about conservatorships. Well, you’ve come to the right place!

What is a conservatorship?

When a person is unable to handle their own personal or financial affairs, the court has the ability to appoint another person to act on their behalf. In certain states, the latter is referred to as a “guardian” or “conservator.”

What happens when someone is named a conservator?

If you’re named a conservatory for your elderly mom, for instance, this means that her power over her financial and personal care decisions will be restricted. Instead, you will be the person to make those decisions. This can include anything from which medical treatments to pursue to where the conservatee lives.

Does my loved one need a conservatorship?

If the scenario described at the beginning of this article sounds familiar to you (i.e., your loved one seems unable to make their own decisions or delegate someone else to do so), conservatorship should be considered. However, it’s important to know that just because your loved makes decisions you don’t agree with doesn’t mean that they’re legally incompetent. A mental assessment may be needed to determine if something is preventing your loved one from acting in a rational manner.

How do I become a conservator?

If you are a relative or friend of the older adult (or a public official), you may petition the court to become their conservator. In your petition, you must explain why you think the person can’t manage their own affairs anymore. Once the petition is filed, an investigator will be appointed to interview the potential conservatee. The investigator makes a report to the court with their opinion on whether a conservatorship is necessary.
A hearing date is set, and the potential conservatee must appear unless they are medically prevented from doing so. Additional evidence for the conservatorship may also be presented at the hearing. At that point, a judge rules whether the conservatorship will be granted, and if so, what rights the conservator will have over the conservatee’s affairs.

What are the advantages of being a conservator?

A conservatorship can be advantageous because it’s one of the highest forms of protection you can offer to an older adult. For instance, your loved one is much less likely to be the victim of scams by unscrupulous individuals.[1. “Top Ten Scams Targeting Seniors,”] This is because most legal, financial, and medical decisions and transactions must go through you. You get to determine whether they’re in your loved one’s best interest or not.

What are the disadvantages of being a conservator?

One of the disadvantages of being a conservator is the cost. It’s not uncommon for those seeking conservatorship to spend a considerable amount of money on court fees, legal fees, investigator’s fees, and more. It can also be a time-consuming role. Certain actions undertaken on the conservatee’s behalf, such as selling property, taking out loans, creating trusts, and other activities require formal court hearings. This can also mean paying additional attorney’s fees. Alternatives to conservatorship include a revocable living trust, durable power of attorney, joint tenancy property, management of community property by a spouse, and the establishment of a representative payee.[2. “FAQ About Power of Attorney,” November, 2008,]

Conservatorship and California law

Please note that the information above is applicable only to California. If you have questions about conservatorships or guardianships in a different state, consult an attorney who is licensed to practice there. Then you will be able to decide the right course of action to honor and safeguard the older adult in your life.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.

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