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Financial Conservatorship: Is It Right for My Elderly Parent?

Lately, you’ve noticed that your elderly father has unopened bills and bank statements on the dining room table. When you ask about it, he seems confused and says it is probably junk mail. After opening a few envelopes, you discover past-due bills and checking account overdraws. Finally, you come to the realization that your father may no longer be capable of managing his finances. Now what?

For those individuals who have an elderly parent who is experiencing cognitive issues or the early stages of dementia, and may be at risk due to inability to manage their finances, a financial conservatorship may be an option.

What Is a Financial Conservatorship?

A financial conservatorship is a legal arrangement in which the court appoints a person to manage another individual’s assets. The conservator is usually a spouse or close relative. Ideally, an elderly parent will be able and willing to agree to a financial conservatorship; however, a conservatorship can be granted without the agreement of the individual. The rules governing a financial conservatorship vary from state to state.

Establishing a Conservatorship

The first step in establishing the conservatorship is to hire an experienced attorney to guide you through the process. With the help of your attorney, you will petition the court to be appointed conservator. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, the petition must contain information on why the individual or conservatee cannot manage their financial affairs.

Once the petition is filed with the court, a court investigator is assigned to determine if the individual is truly incapacitated, and whether an appointment of a conservator is justified. Also, the petitioner should understand that they may be subject to some amount of investigation. The investigator reports back to the court with an opinion.

The appointment may be contested in the event other family members don’t agree that the petitioner should be appointed. The court will hear their reasons for disagreeing with the appointment and make a judgment.

Conservators are subject to court supervision, providing a safeguard that the conservatee’s finances are properly managed. In some cases, the court will require a review of major decisions such as selling property.

A conservator isn’t required to support the conservatee, just to manage the conservatee’s own assets and make personal decisions for them. A financial conservator does have the responsibility to seek all financial benefits and coverage for which the conservatee may qualify. These benefits may include Social Security, medical insurance, Veterans Administration benefits, pension and retirement benefits, disability benefits, public assistance, and Supplemental Security Income.

For more information on conservatorships and adult guardianships for aging adults, consult an elder law attorney. You can find more helpful advice through Nolo, a leading provider of plain-English legal information and products for consumers and businesses.

Pros and Cons of Financial Conservatorships

Agreeing to serve as a conservator is a time-consuming and, at times, stressful obligation and should be accepted only after careful consideration of the pros and cons. Here are a few of the pros and cons to consider:

Pros

  • A conservator is able to sell real estate, administer government benefits such as Social Security and Medicare, and cash out assets if needed to cover the cost of caring for an elderly person.
  • A conservatorship can minimize disagreements among siblings and other relatives regarding the elderly person’s money by placing the responsibility in one person’s hands.
  • Because it is overseen by the court, a conservatorship reduces the chances of elder abuse.
  • The elderly are often victims of financial scams; therefore, a conservatorship protects the individual’s assets.
  • A conservator can sell assets to cover the cost of a nursing home or in-home health care.

Cons

  • If a conservator is not chosen wisely, a conservator can put the elderly person at financial risk through theft of assets, which is considered elder abuse.
  • Establishing a conservatorship can be costly, due to attorney fees and court filings.
  • Conservatorships are time-consuming to set up, often taking several months.
  • Conservatorships can cause family battles that can last for years.
  • Conservatorship arrangements are not private, but rather are a matter of public record and are regularly monitored by the court.

Start a Conversation

In a perfect world, by the time we reach our senior years, we would have our wishes in order through legal documents such as advance directives, power of attorney, living wills, etc. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. If you have an aging parent and aren’t sure they have taken these steps, Right at Home suggests you start a conversation with them so you know important information such as where they bank, where they have their investments, which credit cards they use, what insurance policies they have, and other important legal and financial matters.

Right at Home offers a FREE RightConversations Guide that offers practical advice and information on planning for care and the issues that may come up within families caring for an aging parent or loved one. We can also provide assistance with companion or personal care, to help ensure the well-being of your loved one when you can’t be there. Use our office locator to find the office nearest you.

Marsha Johns, blog author

Marsha Johns is a veteran health care marketer and award-winning writer. She strives to make medical topics understandable and relatable for all readers.

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