What is a Guardianship & Conservatorship?
The movie “I Care A Lot” and the widely-publicized Brittany Spears guardianship & conservatorship case have resulted in a reflexive cringing when this subject comes up.
There are different types of guardianship and conservatorship – for minors and for adults, temporary and permanent. Also, although they often go together, you could have a person protected by a guardianship, but not a conservatorship (or vice versa).
For this blog, we’ll focus on adult guardianship and conservatorship.
In Georgia, a guardianship may be created when the Probate Court finds that a person “lacks sufficient capacity to make or communicate significant responsible decisions concerning his/her health or safety,” and may create a conservatorship when the Court finds that a person “lacks sufficient capacity to make or communicate significant responsible decisions concerning management of his/her property”.
In other words, guardianship deals with decisions regarding the following:
1) where a person lives,
3) medical care, and
4)activities of daily life.
Conservatorship deals with managing finances and property (like a house, vehicles, debts, household bills, and retirement investments).
Common Examples of Guardianship & Conservatorship
Guardianship of Aunt Glenda
Aunt Glenda has been independent her whole life and has lived alone for years. Lately, doesn’t eat much and has left the gas stove on overnight a few times. She’s wandered out into a busy highway near her home. She’s been very confused about which medications she is supposed to take and how to take them. She has a heart condition and if she doesn’t take her medication exactly as prescribed, she’s probably going to have a heart attack.
Having her niece, Sarah, appointed as her guardian would mean that Aunt Glenda would have someone to help. Someone to make sure she gets proper nutrition, she’s safe, and gets the correct medication at the correct times. Having someone else manage these things for Aunt Glenda can ensure a healthier, less stressful life.
Conservatorship of Neighbor John
Neighbor John is an older gentleman. He’s a good cook and enjoys his regular social activities, including weekly breakfast with old friends. He does okay financially with a modest pension and Social Security, but there’s not much extra.
Recently, he has given out his personal information, including his date of birth, Social Security Number, and the name of his bank.
Last week, instead of paying the yard guy the usual $50, he wrote a check for $5,000 (although he meant to write it for $50).
His lights have been cutoff a few times because he didn’t pay the electricity bill.
Also, he’s started giving away his valuable collectibles to strangers. When asked about it, Neighbor John cannot offer any explanation as to why. Only a couple years ago, he was saving those items for his favorite nephew, who he has a close relationship with and visits every week.
And, there are a number of repairs that need to be made to the home and although he has the financial means to pay for them, he’s let them get to the point where irreparable damage may have been done.
Neighbor John may be in a situation where it’s best for someone else to manage his finances and assets. A conservator could be appointed to ensure household bills are paid, necessary repairs are made to the home, and that his other assets are better protected from fraud.
Of course, these are not intended to be legal advice nor a formal legal opinion on whether or not your particular situation would meet the standard necessary for Probate Court to establish a guardianship or conservatorship. If you have questions about a specific situation, contact our office to speak with an attorney.
So, the question is, what can you do now to plan ahead and stay in control?
Even before you get to a guardianship/conservatorship proceeding, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and to ensure your wishes are followed.
Select who you would want to be your guardian and/or conservator with a Power of Attorney and Advance Directive for Health Care.
Instead of the Probate Court selecting someone, YOU can nominate who you believe will best care for you.
That person may still need to be approved by the court later, but your selection is given strong preference by the court. For help getting these valuable documents in place, contact our office.
As with all things manmade, it is possible to abuse and distort the intention of the system.
However, there are many situations where a guardianship or conservatorship truly protects a vulnerable person.
For more information on this topic, check out these pages on our website:
Another great educational resource on this subject is Columbia County, Georgia, Probate Court’s website: