Conservators: Who Are They and Why Are They Are Important

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 | 7:50 pm

For a lot of Pasadenans, attorney Albert Mead is the experienced lawyer who has helped them with their legal concerns like wills, trusts, and real estate. Nearly every time he prepares an estate plan for a client, Mr. Mead also prepares what is known as a Durable Power of Attorney. In this document the client appoints someone to act as their agent if and when they become incapacitated. This agent can be a family member or friend who the client believes can handle their financial affairs when they are no longer able to do so themselves. The agency relationship “kicks in” after reports from a physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist show that the client is no longer able to make informed or sound decisions because of their declining mental or physical incapacity. In most cases the agent capably handles his responsibilities on behalf of the client, and this relationship works acceptably until the client’s death.

However, many things can happen to foil the client’s plan to have a trusted person act for him after the client’s incapacity. The agent may themselves die or be dishonest or negligent. If the client has not appointed a viable alternate agent, a conservator will probably need to be found.

A conservator is a person appointed by the court to make financial and property decisions for clients who have not appointed an agent under a Durable Power of Attorney and are unable to make informed or sound decisions because of their mental or physical incapacity. They are clients who have left their bills unpaid, their mail unopened, their property taxes overdue. Sometimes they cannot feed or otherwise take care of themselves.

In those circumstances, a family member or in some cases the Public Guardian will file a petition with the Probate Court to have a conservator appointed for the client. Conservators can be family members or trusted friends appointed by the client in a Durable Power of Attorney, or a profession fiduciary (who will need to post a bond as security for the client’s property to be managed) or the Public Guardian when there is no family or other person to act on behalf of the client. Regardless of who is appointed as the conservator, that person’s responsibility is to act solely in the best interests of the conservatee. The conservator is appointed by a judge of the Probate Court only after a court-appointed Probate Investigator meets with the client and files a report which concludes that the client needs a conservator and that the person who is proposed as conservator is acceptable. Throughout this entire process the client’s attorney, or, if the client does not have an attorney, one appointed by the Probate Court, will be involved to see that the proposed conservatee’s best interests are protected.

The conservator must always be in contact with the conservatee so he knows the conservatee’s needs and limitations. The relationship is confidential, and while the conservatee is not of sound mind, the conservator should still encourage the conservatee’s participation in the decision-making. If not, then the conservator has the right to make important financial decisions for the conservatee. (Medical decisions can be made by trusted agents appointed by the client in an Advance Health Care Directive, which will be the subject of a subsequent article.).

To insure that the conservatee’s properties and assets are protected, the court will monitor and supervise the conservatorship. The court will also require the conservator to present a status report and provide information about the conservatee’s personal inventory and finances. Setting up and maintaining a conservatorship is expensive and can be intrusive as to the conservatee’s affairs. A conservatorship is usually not the most desirable means of caring for an incapacitated person. That is why it is important that a client set up a solid plan for incapacity (such as a Durable Power of Attorney) when the client is capable.

These duties and responsibilities are familiar turf for Mead, who has taken the role of attorney for conservatee many times. Known for serving the needs of his clientele in a caring and cost-effective way, he protects his conservatees to the best of his ability.

The Law Office of Albert E. Mead Jr. is located at 192 Ramona Place, Pasadena. For more information, call (626) 584-5885 or visit albertmead.controlyourcity.com.

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