As a result of diabetes, Joan’s eyesight and mobility were greatly impaired. She moved to an assisted living facility for help with her personal needs such as cooking, cleaning and transportation. But Joan still needed a great deal of help with her finances. She needed to sell her home, manage her assets and pay her bills. Being widowed with nieces and nephews out of state, Joan had no one to help her.
Joan’s former neighbor, Steve, was willing to help but Joan was uncomfortable naming him as agent under a power of attorney. As a former banker, she knew that powers of attorney were often misused. Although she had known Steve for several years and believed he was kind and competent, she knew that with her failing eyesight and inability to get around that she would not be able to check his figures. She wanted protection.
As for Steve, he was willing to help Joan, but knew it would be a lot of work. If he charged for his services, he was afraid Joan’s relatives would later scrutinize his transactions and criticize or even sue him. He too, wanted protection.
As Joan’s attorney, I suggested she apply to the Probate Court to have Steve appointed her conservator. A conservator acts under the authority of the court much as a guardian acts for an incompetent person.
Unlike a guardianship, it is the principal (Joan) who petitions the court for the conservator. Joan can choose who she wants as Conservator, which (if any) relatives receive notice of the proceedings and what assets are to be included. She can later change her mind to name a new conservator or end the conservatorship all together.
After a short hearing where Joan was determined to be competent and Steve was determined to be suitably reliable, the Court appointed him conservator.
He was required to file an inventory of the assets that he was managing and post a bond in the amount of twice the personality and annual income. Steve then needed to seek the authority of the court to move Joan’s assets into accounts he could manage and get court approval for the expenditures he needed to make. Steve brought a special action through the court to sell Joan’s house. Once the court had approved, Joan signed the deed since she was competent to do so.
Each year Steve is required to account to the court and to Joan for all transactions he has made. Steve is entitled under the law to charge a reasonable fee for his services. Once his accounts and fees are approved by the court, they cannot later be contested by Joan’s relatives.
The conservatorship protects both Joan and Steve. Joan is protected by the bond and has the court’s oversight on all transactions that Steve makes. Steve knows that once he has the courts stamp of approval on his accounts and fees that no one can come back and second guess him.
As with any Court proceeding, an attorney’s assistance can assure that things run smoothly. In a conservatorship, the attorney represents the interests of the Conservatee, in this case, Joan.