Is A Conservatorship Right For Your Family?

From time to time, you may hear news stories about celebrities and other individuals who are placed under a conservatorship. Those stories may lead you to wonder, "What is a conservatorship, and why would I ever need one?"

A conservatorship is the legal right granted by the court to a person who will be responsible for the financial and/or personal decision-making for another person who is deemed incapable of performing these functions for him- or herself.

There are two types of conservatorships: Conservatorship of the Person and Conservatorship of the Estate. You can petition the court for either type, or for both. A Conservatorship of the Person involves managing that individual's affairs, such as arranging for caregivers and denying the person's right to vote or enter into contracts. A Conservatorship of the Estate involves a court-approved administration of the Conservatee's assets.

Usually, when a conservatorship is sought, the Conservatee needs assistance with finances or with making personal health or living choices. The most typical example is a grandparent or disabled person. However, Conservatorships have also been used to force someone to submit to medical treatment, or to try to prevent the incapacitated person from squandering his or her wealth. In rare occasions, families of addicts have used conservatorships to force the person into rehab.

Obtaining a conservatorship is a complex and often costly process that requires the assistance of an attorney at every phase. Once granted, a conservatorship is difficult to terminate. The court exercises strict oversight over the Conservator's decision-making and requires detailed reporting and accounting at regular intervals.

Other options-such as a power of attorney or placing assets in trust-can be equally effective and less costly methods of protecting your loved one's estate. A Well Spouse Petition can be used to transfer assets of an incapacitated person to the other spouse. And medical providers can initiate short-term conservatorships over the care of an individual. These are just a few of the alternatives to conservatorship.

If someone you love is incapacitated, an attorney can help you evaluate the best course of action for your particular situation. If you decide to seek a conservatorship, your attorney will prepare the petition to the court and marshal the information necessary to persuade the judge that the individual lacks capacity to manage his or her own affairs.

Protecting the well being and assets of an incapacitated loved one can be a difficult and heart-rending decision. An experienced attorney can ease the way, and serve as a calm and objective ally in navigating a complex legal process.

Matthew Yu is a solo practitioner attorney at the Law Office of Matthew C. Yu. His practice emphasizes probate, conservatorships and living trusts.