A conservatorship is where someone else is given the legal right and obligation to oversee someone’s personal care and finances. Typically, a conservatorship is required when someone is unable to lawfully sign any legal documents, such as a Power of Attorney, to empower someone to act as their financial or healthcare agent.
Because a conservatorship requires removal of these rights from the conservatee, it can only be ordered by a judge. To start the conservator process, a petition is filed with the court requesting appointment of a conservator. In the petition, the petitioner provides the reasons for the request and nominates someone to act as conservator, typically themselves.
During the conservator process, the court appoints an investigator who will examine the claims of the petitioner, examine the conservatee’s medical records, and may even speak with the conservatee themselves. It should be noted that while the medical professional may view an individual as incapacitated and incapable of taking care of themselves, the legal definitions that are applied may differ enough that the medical and legal conclusions are inconsistent. Once the investigation is completed, the investigator provides findings and recommendations to the court. The entire process can take as much as six months or longer, depending on the particular court, for a permanent conservator to be appointed.
If a conservatorship is granted, then the named conservator will have the duty and obligations to care for the conservatee from that date forward. This might include managing their person (where they live, what they eat, providing healthcare, etc) and their finances (managing all income and assets, paying expenses, liquidating assets to pay for care, etc). The conservator will also need to provide regular accountings to the court about conservatorship activities.
Given the burden of getting a conservatorship, it is generally recommended that a Power of Attorney and Advanced Healthcare Directive get signed well before they are needed. But where these documents were not or could not be created, for whatever reason, a conservatorship may provide the answer.