Conservatorships and Guardianships: Who Can They Help?

When we think about guardianships and conservatorships, we often picture the elderly or minor children. But these protections aren’t just for assisting people at polar ends of the aging spectrum. Conservatorships and guardianships can be a solution for anyone of any age with dependency issues, disabilities, and/or mental illness.

Opioid Nation: An American Epidemic

Local 4 News in Detroit dedicated yesterday, Wednesday, September 6, to a campaign they called “Opioid Nation: An American Epidemic.” During every news hour, they aired a report illustrating the real problem that America faces with substance abuse. These stories ranged from hopeful recoveries thanks to life-saving programs like Hope Not Handcuffs, the most deadly drugs currently on the streets, the wide-spread affects that are ruining the lives of addicts and their loved ones, and organizations whose doors are open to start restoring victims of substance abuse.

In practicing probate law, we frequently work with the families of individuals with dependency issues. Substance abuse is an epidemic, and it affects many more than the dependent person. Through our practice, we are able to lend support to victims’ families through the use of both guardianships and conservatorships.

What Are the Reasons for the Need for Guardianships or Conservatorships?

There are several. The most common include minors, who by definition cannot make their own medical decisions and handle their own finances, and the elderly, who may be physically disabled and unable to go out and about, or who have dementia and lack the ability to make medical and financial decisions. But oftentimes, the need arises for younger adults who have a mental illness, physical illness, disability, or who are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Family members concerned for the well being of a loved one can petition for guardianship or conservatorship if the addiction is such that the person’s ability to make rational decisions is affected. For example, if an addict refuses treatment, a guardian can attempt to seek treatment for the addict. Likewise, if an addict is wasting valuable family resources on their dependency, a conservator can be appointed to take over the assets for the protection of the family.  Regardless of the nature of the need, the probate court can step in to essentially protect the addict from themselves.

What are the Responsibilities of the Guardian or Conservator?

It is critical to keep in mind that guardians and conservators are separate roles.

Guardians care for the emotional and physical well being of an individual. This includes responsibilities like: making decisions on where the ward should live or be placed, especially during periods of treatment and rehabilitation, ensuring he or she is receiving proper medical care, eating properly or following a prescribed diet, taking necessary medications, and helping them to gradually and safely regain their independence. The guardian is required to file annual reports that update the court on the condition of the ward.

On the other hand, conservators are responsible solely for the individual’s finances. This is often the result of someone mismanaging or wasting their own money (especially on harmful substances, such as drugs, alcohol, or even gambling addictions). Conservators pay the protected person’s bills, monitor their purchases, and manage their property, business, and/or investments. The conservator must be trusted to spend this money wisely and with the protected person’s best interest at the forefront of every decision. Conservators are also required to file an inventory of all the assets owned by the protected person and then file an annual accounting with the Probate Court to set forth the assets, income, and expenses made during each year on behalf of the individual.

Do I Have to Choose?

No. Sometimes, various circumstances require that a person be protected by both a guardianship and conservatorship. A person can choose to serve as both guardian and conservator, or the responsibilities can be dispersed among two separate individuals. Other times, you may start out petitioning for guardianship only believing there are minimal assets, and realizing later that the person also needs a conservatorship due to the discovery of more assets. Different circumstances can demand different protections at different times.

How Do I Choose?

Both guardians and conservators have significant responsibilities, and must have the time and patience to dedicate to the role. Many family members are understandably frustrated with the addict when they arrive in our office. They want to help, but may not be willing or able to act as guardian or conservator. That’s okay too. Anyone interested in the well being of another can petition for the appointment of a third party as guardian or conservator. While preference is given to certain family members, anyone willing to act may be appointed. And if no one is willing to act, the court can appoint a professional guardian or conservator, such as an attorney, public administrator, or agency.

Have More Questions?

While we handle guardianships and conservatorships every day, you can easily see how each individual case is as unique as the person in need of protection and those that care for them.

Our attorneys are well versed in all types of guardianships and conservatorships, and are here to help navigate the waters during these difficult times. Feel free to contact us for a free consultation. We would love to learn how we can best serve you! or 248.399.3300.