Conservatorship Lawyers Serving Clients in Georgia With Professional Legal Guidance
Becoming a conservator enables a person to assume the decision-making capacity for financial transactions for individuals who have become incapacitated either through illness or injury or who are under the age of 18. The process of becoming a conservator can be complex, and it is recommended that you employ the services of a lawyer to assist you. The conservatorship process may take up to six months from beginning to end with many hearings involved. After being appointed as a conservator, there are many responsibilities to handle, and there can be serious legal penalties for not meeting those responsibilities.
While all of this may sound daunting, our lawyers at Georgia Wills, Trusts, and Probate Firm, LLC can guide you through the entire process and make it as easy as possible for you and your loved one so you can focus on their continued care and welfare. Our law firm appreciates that the decision to seek a conservatorship is not always easy and may elicit many emotions from all who are involved. Our lawyers will handle your situation tactfully and professionally and help you protect the interests of your loved one. We can also advise you on whether a conservatorship is your best option or if there may be other, less restrictive alternatives that better suit your needs. Call us today at (770) 758-6832 to schedule a conservatorship strategy session.
What Does It Mean to Be a Conservator?
Sometimes our loved ones are unable to make responsible financial decisions for themselves due to being too young or having a physical or mental incapacity. Minors with significant assets are often appointed a conservator to manage their estate until they reach the age of majority and can take over that responsibility. Also, when an adult has been deemed by a medical professional and the court as being unable to make or communicate significant responsible decisions, they will need someone to make those choices for them. In both of these cases, we want to be certain our loved one is protected from fraud and ensure that their best interests are being looked after. A conservatorship is one way we can protect that family member. A conservatorship gives an appointed person legal authority over a ward’s estate.
A conservator has significant responsibilities, such as ensuring payment for needed medical care, managing the ward’s money, and even initiating legal proceedings to recover stolen assets, when applicable. The conservator often has to post a bond before the letters of conservatorship are issued and they can be held financially and legally responsible if they do not properly manage their ward’s property. At required times the conservator must make an inventory of the estate’s assets and present it to the court along with an account of all the money that has gone into and out of the estate during the given time period. This accounting is available to the public, and any interested person can file a complaint if they feel the ward’s assets have not been satisfactorily managed. Because of the magnitude of these ongoing responsibilities, it is important to have a knowledgeable legal team on your side to not only help you set up the conservatorship but to continue to advise you and help you perform all of your fiduciary duties to the satisfaction of the court.
What Is the Difference Between Guardianship and Conservatorship?
Sometimes, guardianship and conservatorship are used interchangeably. However, under Georgia law, guardianship refers to being responsible for someone’s medical treatment, health care, and residential decisions; conservatorship means having responsibility for a protected person’s financial affairs and estate. Sometimes the appointed guardian and the conservator can be the same individual, and they are responsible for all of these duties.
The duties of an appointed guardian may include:
- Having physical custody of their ward and deciding where they will live.
- Providing for the ward’s well-being, including his or her health care, food, clothing, and social needs.
- Taking care of any of the ward’s assets that require maintenance, such as cars, houses, properties, and personal belongings.
- Giving consent for any required medical treatments, counseling services, and end-of-life care.
An appointed guardian may perform some of the duties of a conservator if one has not been appointed, such as applying for government assistance on behalf of the ward. However, if the estate has been placed into conservatorship by a probate court then the conservator will be responsible for managing all the financial affairs of the ward, such as:
- Paying any bills or fees for the support, education, and maintenance of the ward.
- Satisfying any lawful debts that may be incurred by the ward.
- Prudently investing any funds not needed for debts, the maintenance of the ward, or the estate.
- Exercising the power to approve or deny any transactions, aside from necessities, that the ward may choose to make, in order to protect them from fraud or bad financial choices.
Who Can Be Appointed as a Conservator?
Generally, the probate court appoints the person who they believe would best serve the interests of the ward. They consider many factors in their appointment, including whether the person is the current guardian for the ward, whether they are related, and what the preference of the ward may be if they are capable of indicating it. To protect the ward, anyone wishing to become a guardian or conservator usually has to submit to a background check which looks for any criminal activity and any history of maltreatment. There is value in appointing a conservator who the ward is comfortable communicating with because issues may arise where the ward and conservator have to discuss a financial situation and come to an agreeable compromise and this is easiest if they have mutual respect for one another. The conservator should also remember that they have no authority to make choices about the personal affairs of the ward.
How Is Conservatorship Established?
In Georgia, any individual who believes another person requires a conservator for their financial affairs may file a petition with the court to initiate the process. They must pay the initial filing fee at the time of the petition and fully complete all necessary documents. In order for the petition to be considered valid, at least two or more petitioners need to sign the petition, or if there is only one petitioner, then they must have an affidavit from a physician, psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker that supports their claim that the proposed ward requires a conservator for their own well being. There may be a background check run on the petitioner. The proposed ward may hire or be appointed an attorney and any other interested parties who may be involved in the court proceedings, such as their family members, caregivers, and others must be notified of the court proceedings so they can have a chance to weigh in and attend the court dates. The petitioner must then be able to prove to the probate court that the proposed ward is unable to handle their own finances and requires a conservator to look after their estate.
If enough evidence is given and it is decided by the court that a conservatorship is in the best interests of the potential ward then the court appoints a conservator for the ward’s property. The appointed conservator has many responsibilities to fulfill to the ward and to the court. The court requires them to report frequently on the ward’s health and mental state, how their needs are being met, and any changes in their residence. A conservator is also required to report any changes in the patient’s situation that may require a change in the conservatorship, such as an improvement in the ward’s mental state that would result in them being capable of handling their finances again without assistance.
Why Is It Important to Consult an Attorney When Considering Conservatorship?
Everyone wishes to maintain their independence for as long as possible, and the courts do not like to remove rights from a person unless it has been deemed absolutely necessary for their well-being. An attorney familiar with guardianship or conservatorship laws can advise you on whether these are appropriate steps to take in your situation and may suggest other options that you had not considered that are less restrictive for your loved one.
If, however, your family member does not have the sufficient capacity to make responsible decisions on their own and you feel that having a guardian or conservator is in their best interest, then an attorney can help you begin the conservatorship process. At Georgia Wills, Trusts, and Probate Firm, LLC, we understand this decision is not undertaken lightly because it often involves previously competent loved ones who have lost their facilities due to an accident, mental illness, or old age. We know how to handle these cases with tact and decorum. Our attorneys for estate planning from Marietta will advise and support you through all of the conservatorship proceedings and make certain you understand your legal requirements and responsibilities. If you have any questions about conservatorship or if you have already been appointed a guardian or conservator and need help navigating the regulations, contact our law firm today at (770) 758-6832 to make an appointment.