Elderly Conservatorship and Guardianship

Just as adults may be appointed guardians of children for one reason or another, the same type of process is also available for the elderly. Elderly guardianship or conservatorship is when a court appoints an individual to take care of an elderly person. It may be a family member or a close friend. This usually takes place when the elderly person is no longer able to take care of themselves. This can include anything from taking care of finances to helping with personal hygiene and medications. The type of duties covered can vary from case to case.

The Process of Elderly Conservatorship

Becoming someone’s conservator isn’t as easy as saying you want to do it and taking action. It can be a lengthy process that involves the court and several documents. A guardianship or conservatorship can only happen when there is no one else legally in charge of care and the person in question is no longer capable of taking care of themselves.

Each state has its own specific rules when it comes to conservatorship. Generally speaking the process begins with the person petitioning for guardianship going to the court to have the person they’re going to take care of declared incompetent based on expert findings. This can be through an exam by a doctor or other types of testing. A judge may also question the person to see if they are capable of understanding what is going on. The judge may even ask if they want a conservator and if they feel as though they can still make their own decisions.

Once this is done, the court decides if the person petitioning to be guardian is fit for the role. If there is more than one person asking, the court will decide who is best suited. Preference is usually given to a spouse or family member, as long as they are deemed suitable. If an elderly person is in need of a guardian and there is no one who steps up to the plate, the court will appoint a professional or public guardian to the job.

When this happens, the public guardian is often compensated through funds released from the individual’s estate. This is an important factor to keep in mind. If a family member or friend takes on the responsibility, there is typically no compensation given.

If family members agree on who should become the conservator or guardian, the process is much less costly and quicker. When there are disagreements, the process can be prolonged and cost much more money.

Duties of a Guardian

When someone takes on the responsibility of becoming a guardian they are inheriting many responsibilities. They must always put the interest of the person in their care first. Responsibilities of a guardian include:

  • Deciding where the person should live
  • How to handle finances and a budget
  • Taking care of doctor’s visits and medications
  • Deciding on a social schedule if appropriate
  • Making end of life decisions
  • Managing real estate and personal property

As you can see, the duties of a guardian are not to be taken lightly. When you take on the role, you are accepting the responsibility of managing another person’s life in nearly every way. When the court decides on a guardian, it can give broad authority or limited authority. This decision will impact just how much control the guardian has over the individual.

Pros and Cons of Guardianship

While the main goal of a guardianship is to make sure the person is taken care of, that is not always the case. Many seniors lose their freedom through guardianships and some even lose their life’s savings to guardians who mismanage or squander their hard-earned money.

Seniors who have a guardian may also lose the freedom of deciding where they want to live. They may be forced into new surroundings they do not like.

But, when a guardianship works out, it can be beneficial for everyone involved. When there is a trusted person at the helm who truly acts in the individual’s best interests, the individual is taken care of well and can often thrive. They no longer have to worry about their finances or making any major decisions.

When Does a Guardianship End?

If the person being taken care of dies, then the guardianship obviously ends. But, in some cases it ends when the person can regain the ability to make decisions.

In other cases the guardian may change if the person dies, moves away, or can no longer perform the duties for some reason. A judge could also end a guardianship if the guardian consistently makes poor decisions. A family member can also petition the court to ask that the guardian be changed.

Alternatives to Guardianship

If a guardianship does not appeal to you or your family, there are other avenues to explore that also assure people are being taken care of when they can’t do it themselves. These include:

  • Living Trust: An elderly person can appoint someone to take care of their financial affairs.
  • Power of Attorney: Another individual can act on the elderly person’s behalf. This person is chosen by the individual before they become incapable of doing so themselves, not the court. Some people prefer this better because it puts the individual in charge of choosing who will represent them and care for them, not the court.
  • Representative Payeeship: If an elderly person receives income from government benefits, another person may be in charge of managing this money.

If you or a loved one is considering a guardianship or conservatorship you should consult a lawyer to weigh your options. By assessing the pros and cons for your situation, you can determine if it’s the right path for you.

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