Becoming a Conservator

Explore the essential steps and legal nuances of becoming a conservator with Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, PLLC. Our guide provides valuable insights for those seeking to manage the affairs of a loved one.

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Conservatorship: What it Is All About

Embarking on the journey to become a conservator is a profound step, signaling a deep commitment to empathetically safeguarding and managing the affairs of those who can no longer do so themselves. 

Conservatorship, a legal relationship established by a court, is created when a responsible individual is appointed to manage the financial or personal affairs of a person deemed unable to manage them. That person can be either an incapacitated adult or a minor child.

Understandably, this process involves navigating complex legal waters, requiring not only a clear understanding of the responsibilities involved but also a genuine dedication to acting in the best interest of the person you’re looking to protect. By understanding the conservatorship proceeding and its requirements better, you can take the necessary steps to ensure the well-being and financial stability of the individual in need.

Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, PLLC, a DC law firm, can help you do just that — understand what this process entails and how to navigate it well. We strive to provide cost-effective legal services tailored to your unique situation.

Understanding Conservatorship

Conservatorships and guardianships are handled by probate courts when people become incapacitated. If the court decides to appoint a conservator or a guardian, the incapacitated person is called a ward. 

Although the same person can be appointed to serve as guardian and conservator, the court can also appoint different people.

A guardian is in charge of making health care and medical decisions instead of someone who can’t decide for themselves because of a disability, illness, or injury. Guardians can handle small amounts of money, but if the amount exceeds $24,000 a year, the judge usually appoints a conservator.

What Is a Conservatorship?

Conservators are people appointed by courts to manage the financial affairs and personal affairs of people who are unable to manage them independently.

In the District of Columbia, the court can establish:

  • Permanent conservatorship

  • Temporary conservatorship

In cases of permanent conservatorship, the court can establish general conservatorship – where the conserver appointed by the court will take care of all the ward’s property without limitation. However, the court can also establish a limited conservatorship if the conserver takes care of only one part of the ward’s property.

Under DC law § 21–2056, the court can appoint someone to act as a special or temporary conservator to assist the ward in accomplishing any transaction or protective arrangement.

Legal Requirements and Qualifications

Before appointing a conservator, the court must find that the proposed conservatee is incapacitated. In other words, the court must find that a person can’t make any important life decisions, doesn’t understand the facts about their financial affairs or living situation, or can’t clearly communicate their decisions on these matters.

A conservator can often be a family member of the ward. However, although family members are often on the top of the list of individuals who can serve as conservators in DC, they must meet certain criteria. Generally, a conservator has to be older than 18. Moreover, the criminal history of the person petitioning to serve as a conservator may be reviewed.

While expertise in finances and assets isn’t a strict requirement for serving as a conservator, evidence of financial mismanagement, such as declaring bankruptcy, could potentially undermine a person’s case.

If no family member meets these criteria, the court may appoint an independent conservator, such as an attorney.

The Process of Becoming a Conservator

Filing for Conservatorship

When the court appoints a conservator, they are actually responding to a petition for a general proceeding seeking the appointment of a conservator. So, the first step in becoming a conservator includes filing that petition with the Probate Division Court clerk.

The petition has to specify what is being requested from the court and why the request is being made. A written report regarding the proposed conservatee’s lack of capacity has to be submitted with the petition.

Court Procedures and Hearings

If no report has been submitted, an independent court investigator can be employed to examine the proposed conservatee and determine whether they can make their own decisions.

Typically, the court hearing is held to review the petition and determine whether the conservatorship is contested or not. Bear in mind that if the court investigator thinks there is a problem with the petition, they will write a report and ask that the court appoint a lawyer for the proposed conservatee.

A trial may be set if the proposed conservatee and their attorney contest the conservatorship. At the trial, interested parties may be able to present additional evidence proving capacity or incapacity.

Based on the petition, court investigator’s report, and other evidence during the hearing, the judge determines whether conservatorship is required and what types of special powers may be granted to the conservator.

Challenges and Considerations

Upon appointment, the conservator has to qualify by filing a bond within fourteen days of the date of appointment. Furthermore, the conservator must create an individual conservatorship plan and file it within 60 days of the appointment date.

Managing Conservatorship Responsibilities

A conservator’s duties typically include:

  1. Managing the conservatee’s assets
  2. Handling tax filings
  3. Supervising investments
  4. Managing bill payments
  5. Safeguarding the conservatee’s financial interests

Additionally, if there are sufficient funds, the conservator has to ensure that money is available to the ward each month for their personal needs as well as daily necessities.

Overcoming Common Challenges

A financial conservatorship is considered a type of fiduciary relationship. In other words, a conservator has a fiduciary duty to act and make decisions in the conservatee’s best interest to the best of their knowledge and ability.

To ensure this, conservators answer to the court. They must keep records of every decision they make on behalf of their conservatee and periodically file reports to the court.

Need More Information on Becoming a Conservator? Contact Us Today! 

If your parent is suffering from a mental illness or a physical injury, they may lose their ability to make sound choices. If you want to protect their finances and help them manage their personal affairs, you may need to file for conservatorship.

However, the court won’t just take your word if you say that a loved one needs a conservatorship. Since a conservatorship will strip an adult of making their financial decisions for themselves, you will have to prove the conservatorship is warranted.

Although you don’t need an attorney to initiate the conservatorship procedure, you may need one because you will bear the burden of proving the incapacity. A skilled attorney will know which evidence can be presented and what legal arguments you can present at the hearing.

This is where Kevin C. Martin, Attorney at Law, PLLC, comes in. With decades of combined legal experience and vast knowledge of DC’s estate planning laws, we strive to keep your loved ones safe.

Our team has worked with many families that have been forced to step into probate court and obtain legal help for their loved ones. In addition to conservatorship, our special needs planning attorney can help choose the right guardianship arrangement that can best serve your child’s medical, physical, and emotional needs.

If you have more questions, contact me today. Together, we can develop a plan to provide your family with much-needed guidance and support.