An Overview of Conservatorships

With advances in modern medicine, America's elderly population is living longer than ever before. With seniors living into their 70s, 80s and beyond, we are seeing a greater need for conservatorships and adult guardianships.

Conservators are appointed by the court and are given the authority to manage the affairs of someone who is no longer capable of handling their financial or healthcare decisions.

When an individual plans ahead and signs a durable powers for healthcare and finances, he or she won't need a conservator because the person named in those documents can take control.

If the person fails to plan ahead – a common occurrence – then a family member must ask the court to appoint a conservator or a guardian. In some states conservatorships are referred to adult guardianships, however, the terms are used interchangeably.

Reasons for Conservatorships

Generally, family members seek to establish a conservatorship because their loved one is no longer capable of making decisions for themselves due to an accident, illness, advanced disease such as cancer, or Alzheimer's disease.

If a court appoints a person to handle strictly financial matters, that person is usually referred to as a "conservator of the estate." On the other hand, a "conservator of the person" would be responsible for the day-to-day and healthcare decisions of the ward.

Sometimes a court appoints a conservator of the estate only, or a conservator of the person, or the court appoints a person to be both. In any case, the conservator is supervised and held accountable to the court.

If you want to avoid a conservatorship for yourself, the best thing to do is contact an estate planning attorney and have them prepare a durable powers of attorney before a health crisis strikes. This way, you can hand select someone that you trust to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf.