Recent media buzz has brought attention to a little-understood aspect of US law: conservatorships. Conservatorships are a form of guardianship for adults.
There are multiple reasons why a person may need a conservator to manage their affairs. According to the Autism Society, the idea behind conservatorships is to protect vulnerable people from exploitation.
What is a conservatorship?
All persons under the age of 18 have a legal guardian. In most cases, the legal guardian is the child’s parent; however, it can be another person depending on the situation. The moment an individual turns 18, the former legal guardian has no further control over that individual’s affairs, as the individual is now a legal adult.
Conservatorship is a form of legal guardianship for adults who cannot manage their own affairs due to a variety of reasons. Situations where an adult may need a conservator include adults living with mental disabilities, persons in comas and persons living with degenerative brain diseases.
Are there alternatives?
Conservatorships are not right for everybody or every situation. It can be a very emotionally intense process to obtain a conservatorship, particularly if the vulnerable person in question does not want a conservatorship in place. In this situation, many families decide to try durable power of attorney.
Durable power of attorney is when the vulnerable person voluntarily signs over certain decision-making aspects to another person. The difference between a conservatorship and durable power of attorney is that the vulnerable person retains the ability to revoke durable power of attorney at any point. With a conservatorship, the courts must get involved to revoke it.