When a person can no longer care for themselves, they may need to be placed under the legal guardianship of another person, also called conservatorship. This can be a difficult process. Data from the National Council on Disability shows that around 1.3 million Americans are under conservatorship, with not less than $50 billion in combined assets.
Before you are placed in such a situation, it is important to know your options and rights. This article will discuss what legal guardianship is, the scope of its authority, and the risks associated with it. It will also provide tips on avoiding being placed under guardianship or conservatorship.
What is Legal Guardianship or Conservatorship?
Legal guardianship or conservatorship is a legal relationship in which one person, called the guardian or conservator, is given the authority to make decisions on behalf of another person, called the ward. The guardian or conservator has a legal duty to act in the ward’s best interests and provide for their physical and financial needs. The source of the ward’s care funds is typically the ward’s own assets or income. In some cases, the guardian or conservator may also be required to contribute their own funds.
The guardianship or conservatorship arrangement may be temporary, lasting only until the ward can make its own decisions again. In other cases, it may be permanent.
There are two types of legal guardianship: full and limited. Full guardianship gives the guardian or conservator complete control over the ward’s life. Limited guardianship gives the guardian or conservator only limited authority, such as the authority to make financial decisions on behalf of the ward.
A guardian or conservator typically has the following powers and responsibilities:
- To make decisions about the ward’s residence
- To make decisions about the ward’s medical care
- To make decisions about the ward’s education
- To manage the ward’s finances
- To represent the ward in legal proceedings
- To file tax returns on behalf of the ward
Risks Associated with Guardianship or Conservatorship
There are several risks associated with being placed under legal guardianship or conservatorship.
First, the guardian or conservator may abuse their authority. They may make decisions that are not in the ward’s best interests, such as placing them in an inappropriate living situation or denying them necessary medical care.
Second, the guardian or conservator may misuse the ward’s finances. They may spend the ward’s money on themselves or others or make poor investment decisions that result in the loss of the ward’s assets.
Third, the guardian or conservator may be unable to adequately care for the ward. This may happen if the guardian or conservator is not physically able to care for the ward or if they are not emotionally or mentally prepared for the responsibility.
Fourth, the guardian or conservator may be dishonest. They may lie about their qualifications, experience, or condition of the ward.
Finally, the guardian or conservator may take advantage of the ward’s vulnerability. They may exploit the ward sexually, emotionally, or financially.
What is Your Legal Recourse Against Guardian or Conservator Abuse?
If you are being abused by your guardian or conservator, legal options are available. You can file a petition with the court granting guardianship or conservatorship, asking that the arrangement be terminated. You can also file a police report alleging that the guardian or conservator has committed a crime against you. Finally, you can file a civil lawsuit against the guardian or conservator, seeking damages for the harm they caused you.
When contesting conservatorship, you must get the services of a lawyer who specializes in guardianship or conservatorship abuse. Such a lawyer will have the specific knowledge and experience to help you navigate the legal process and protect your rights.
How to Avoid Being Placed Under Guardianship or Conservatorship
There are a number of things you can do to avoid being placed under legal guardianship or conservatorship. You must take these steps while you are still in complete control of your faculties.
First, you should create a power of attorney document. This document gives another person, called an agent, the authority to make decisions on your behalf in the event that you become incapacitated. The agent can be anyone you trust, such as a family member or close friend. Doing this will ensure that you make a choice in appointing the person who will have authority over your life, rather than having that choice made for you by a court.
Second, you should create a living will. A living will is a document in which you state your preferences for medical care. This will be used in the event that you are incapacitated and unable to make those decisions and communicate those wishes yourself. Your instructions can include whether you want to be kept on life support and what types of medical procedures you are willing or not willing to undergo.
Third, you should create a trust. This is a legal arrangement in where ownership of your assets is transferred to someone, named a trustee. The trustee will manage the assets for your benefit. This can be used to protect your assets in the event that you become incapacitated and are unable to manage them yourself.
Protect yourself now by learning more about legal guardianship and conservatorship and taking steps to avoid being placed under one.