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8 Things to Know Before Becoming a Conservator of Someone’s Estate

conservator and property rights

When you hear phrases like durable power of attorney, guardianship, or conservator, you may instantly think of your elderly grandparents or parents. If, for any reason, they become mentally incapacitated, they would need someone to make decisions on their behalf.

However, you may never consider yourself in the equation. Yet, it is frightening to realize how vulnerable everyone is to situations where they can quickly become mentally incapacitated.

For example, one lady whose story made the media was incapacitated by a fall on the stairs. She was only 50 years old. A court-appointed guardian made decisions that, in the end, led to the guardian being sued.

You need to know eight things before becoming a conservator of someone’s estate.

1. Guardian or Conservator?

First, you must clarify whether you will be appointed as a guardian or conservator of the estate. What is the difference? Depending on where you live, the definitions could be slightly different. The fact is, both roles overlap to some degree.

Generally, guardianship is appointed for a child, whereas conservatorship is set for an adult. In some places, a conservatorship is referred to as an adult guardianship.

Once again, as a general rule, guardianship is focused on making decisions for the principal (the incapacitated person) that are not money-based. These decisions tend to focus on day-to-day matters, healthcare, and anything relating to the illness or disability the principal may be suffering from.

In contrast, the conservator makes decisions that include how the principal’s finances are used. Bear in mind that both these roles are appointed by a court after considering all the facts. If they deem it appropriate, the court can select the same person as guardian and conservator.

2. Durable Power of Attorney

This is not a reactive legal mechanism. It is a proactive mechanism designed to help people plan for a time when they foresee they may become mentally incapacitated and need someone to make decisions for them. When applying for durable power of attorney (DPA), they must control their mental faculties completely.

If someone has already planned with a DPA, applying for guardianship or conservatorship may not be necessary. These legal provisions are primarily for situations where a DPA does not exist.

3. Legal Speak

There are different types of conservatorships. Here’s a list of the main types and responsibilities below:

i. Probate Conservator

This is the type of conservatorship that most people would expect. The court appoints the conservator to make decisions and manage the conservatee’s financial affairs. In the event a person becomes mentally incapacitated, the family of that person can petition the court to appoint someone in the family as the probate conservator.


ii. Conservator of the Person

This involves making decisions that are usually not financial but involve the person themselves, such as where they live, clothing, and food. It also includes the medical care they receive. Each year, the conservator of the person is responsible to the court by submitting a report that shows they are executing their role responsibly and legally.

iii. Conservator for the Estate

This person is appointed by the court to handle the legal and financial affairs of the person. Overall, the conservator has great freedom to use the conservatee’s assets as they see fit and in the interests of the conservatee.

This is legally supervised through the submission of annual reports to the court. Further, the conservator must seek approval from the court for significant transactions. This type of conservator should not be confused with property guardianship.

iv. Lanterman-Petris Short (LPS) Act

This type of conservatorship is designed to give the power of decisions and care to someone else when the conservatee is greatly incapacitated through things like the abuse of alcohol and drugs. The family cannot initiate this but must come from the local court.

4. The Good and the Bad

The advantages of using a conservatorship are self-evident. It is a legal process that potentially allows the family to make sound decisions on behalf of a relative who has become mentally incapacitated in a way that was not expected.

Disadvantages are that the conservator may not be family and may not make decisions that genuinely reflect the conservatee’s best interests. Alternatively, they may be family members who abuse the legally appointed privilege.

Furthermore, the process can be time-consuming and potentially expensive. There can be ongoing court hearings, and legal assistance must be used continuously. There may even be the requirement of paying a bond that protects against the abuse of the legally appointed power. However, you will need a conservatorship attorney if there is no DPA.

5. Legal Process for Conservator

How does all of this work in reality? The process follows the basic steps below:

  1. File an application/petition for conservatorship with the court
  2. Collect a ‘Notice of Hearing’ from the Probate Division
  3. Within three days, make sure the ‘incapacitated’ person receives this document
  4. Step three is called ‘serving the papers’ and is essential
  5. After this, you complete an affidavit and get it notarized
  6. You must file the above with the court
  7. The judge will appoint a team to begin an investigation
  8. A date will be issued for a court hearing, which you will need to attend

These are the basic steps, but they may vary in detail depending on where you are filing your petition.

6. Compensation

As mentioned, the process can be expensive as legal help must be employed throughout the process and ongoing according to need. The costs for this come from the estate of the conservatee. That said, the conservator may be entitled to some compensation on an hourly basis. This is a practical measure.

7. Ending the Process

There may be several events that end the need for a conservatorship. The primary reason may be the conservatee dies. It could also be that the conservatee recovers their mental capacity and no longer needs help. A further reason to end the conservatorship is that the conservatee’s assets are finally consumed, and nothing is left. It is also possible to resign from a conservatorship.

8. Is It for Me?

Finally, you have to ask yourself if this is right for you. Please know that being a conservator is not easy. It is a big responsibility and will come with its stresses and pressures. This is true when the conservatee is a member of the family. It can be emotional and tiring. In the end, it is your decision which you need to make carefully.

Conservator – Final Thought

You are now in a much better position to know whether you should take on the responsibility of being a conservator or not.


Whatever you do, you will need excellent advice and support from experts in the field. Don’t delay in discussing this with those who have much more experience.

In the meantime, check out our other articles with excellent legal advice here.