The Basics of Conservatorship

The Basics of Conservatorship

by Brette Sember, J.D., October 2018

Conservatorship places another person or organization in charge of an adult's financial matters or care when that adult is incapacitated and unable to manage their own affairs. Conservators are charged with acting in the best interest of their ward. The legal process for this appointment is called probate conservatorship. The laws about conservatorships vary with each state, so check your state laws to understand how conservatorship works there.

Woman with her arm on her father's shoulder

When Conservatorship Is Granted

Conservatorship is granted by a court when an adult cannot make their own decisions and is incapacitated, at least to some extent. Situations in which this might occur include:

  • A sudden illness that results in legal incapacity, such as a coma
  • A chronic illness that slowly leads to incapacity, such as a dementia diagnosis
  • A disabled person, such as someone with cerebral palsy, becoming an adult and needing ongoing care that they do not have the ability to manage themselves

Types of Conservatorship

Conservatorship can be for a person's care or for their finances. There are several types:

  • Conservatorship of estate. This is authority to manage a person's finances. For example, a daughter living with her elderly father might be granted probate conservatorship for her father's finances so that she can manage his funds and pay his bills. This is considered to be one type of probate conservatorship.
  • Conservatorship of person. This is authority to handle personal health and lifestyle decisions. If an elderly father cannot live on his own, his daughter might be granted conservatorship of his care, allowing him to place him in a nursing home where he can get the care he needs. This is considered to be one type of probate conservatorship.
  • Limited conservatorship. This is authority to make decisions for a disabled adult, such as parents or other relatives acting as conservators for an adult disabled child. In this situation, the adult child retains the authority to make some decisions, such as where they live, but the conservators can handle the financial matters.
  • Joint conservatorship. This occurs when two people are named as conservators, such as a son and daughter being named joint conservators for a parent.

While it is most common for a family member or close friend to be appointed conservator, there are organizations that, for a fee, handle all decisions for the incapacitated person. This is most common when there is no family available. You may have heard the term sole managing conservatorship, but it applies in child custody cases and is not relevant to conservatorships of adults.

How to Get Conservatorship

Conservatorship can only be created by a court order and is handled in probate court in the county where the adult in question resides. Conservatorship forms can be found on the state or county probate court's website or at the office of the court clerk. The ward has to be served with a copy of the papers. The court schedules a hearing to decide if conservatorship is necessary or appropriate. It is often necessary to provide a doctor's report based on an examination to obtain conservatorship of an adult.

Preventing Conservatorship

There are steps adults can take to prevent the need for a conservatorship. An estate plan must contain several documents to prevent any issues. A health care advance directive, known in some states as a health care power of attorney, and/or a health proxy should be completed so that you can establish your wishes for end-of-life care choices and name a person who is authorized to make health care decisions on your behalf. Creating a living trust can protect your finances and make sure they are managed by someone you trust, should you be unable to manage them yourself. Another part of the package is a power of attorney, which names a person of your choice to handle your financial and business matters if you are in a position where you can't do so yourself. If you want help with your estate plan, you can use an online service provider.

Conservatorship provides an avenue to legally manage another adult's care or finances when they are unable to do so, ensuring that the incapacitated adult is cared for and protected.