Understanding The Functions And Purposes Of Guardianships And Conservatorships
Guardianship and conservatorship questions may arise when an elder relative or older loved one shows signs of incapacity or can no longer handle personal care or financial matters. A guardian or conservator is only appointed if a judge determines the person, frequently referred to as a “ward,” is incapacitated or incompetent, depending on the law of the state. The guardian or conservator could be a spouse, a son or daughter, a friend or another interested party.
To determine whether a guardianship or conservatorship is appropriate in your situation, contact an experienced elder law attorney from Akridge & Balch, P.C., in Auburn, Alabama.
Guardianships And Conservatorships: What’s The Difference?
Depending on the state, guardians and conservators may have different roles. In states with both guardians and conservators, guardians’ duties typically involve providing for the physical and mental health of the “ward” (the person under protection) while conservators typically handle the ward’s financial matters. But some states use the term “guardian” to describe both of these roles, and some states may only use the term “conservator.”
Regardless of the term used, if the judge determines the ward is incapacitated, the judge must also determine the specific duties of the guardian or conservator, including ensuring appropriate physical or medical care for the ward, managing the ward’s finances, and representing the ward in lawsuits and other matters. In many states, even someone under guardianship or conservatorship will retain the right to vote unless the court specifically orders otherwise.
The Ward’s Rights
Depending on the circumstances, the ward may retain the right to control many aspects of his or her life. For example, the ward may be able to handle personal care, but be unable to manage his or her own finances (or vice versa). In those cases, the guardian or conservator will only be appointed to handle matters that the ward cannot handle.
While exercising their powers, guardians and conservators are bound to employ “reasonable care.” But, guardians and conservators are generally not legally liable to the ward or to third parties unless they engage in willful misconduct or gross negligence.
Applying For A Guardianship Or Conservatorship
To initiate a guardianship or conservatorship, an interested party must file a petition to the court. The petition will state the petitioner’s relationship to the prospective ward. The petition will also state facts that show that the proposed ward is incapacitated and the need for a guardian. The petition should detail the ward’s property and assets. The judge will examine the petition and hold a hearing that the proposed ward must attend if he or she is able. After the hearing, the judge will decide if the proposed ward needs a guardian, conservator or both. Wards have the right to appeal a guardianship or conservatorship determination.
Once appointed, a guardian or conservator must be discharged by the judge to end the guardianship or conservatorship. Reasons for discharge include the death of the ward or conservatee, the ward’s return to capacity or the guardian/conservator’s inability to fulfill his or her duties.
Speak With An Attorney About A Guardianship Or Conservatorship
Friends and family members must confront difficult questions and emotions if they believe that a disabled or aging loved one can no longer care for himself or herself. The role of guardian or conservator is very complicated and requires dedication.
A skilled elder law attorney from Akridge & Balch, P.C., in Auburn, Alabama, can help you find answers to guardianship and conservatorship questions, guide you through the processes of guardianship and conservatorship and help you comply with the court’s orders. We offer counsel on a range of elder law concerns. Let us help you tackle the legal challenges of aging.