What is a “conservatorship” in elder law?

Oftentimes the anxiety that comes with growing older stems from the uneasiness a person feels when thinking about nearing death or merely becoming less capable of doing the day-to-day activities that he or she enjoys. At its heart, estate planning seeks to reduce or eliminate these fears by devising a system through which assets can be protected and distributed.

However, some Arizona residents may face challenging estate issues even prior to their death. This is the case for those who become incapacitated and therefore unable to make their own financial decisions. When this happens, another individual can petition a court to be appointed as a conservator over the incapacitated individual. Those who are appointed as a conservator then have the power to invest the estate’s funds and distribute them in order to cover the protected person’s care. The conservator must also pay the protected individual’s bills from the estate’s funds.

Under Arizona law, a conservator is required to limit the dispersal of estate funds so that they are only used for the benefit of the protected person. However, as any interested party can seek to be appointed a conservator, that individual may not fully understand how the protected individual would have wanted his or her estate handled. For many Arizona residents, this is a frightening concept.

Fortunately, Arizona residents may be able to avoid conservatorships through careful estate planning. A durable financial power of attorney can allow an individual to designate a specific individual who will become responsible for making financial decisions for the estate in the event that the individual becomes unable to do so on his or her own. However, these documents need to be carefully crafted in light of the facts at hand, including the individual’s ability to understand the power of attorney. Those who believe they could benefit from this legal action may want to consult with an attorney who is experienced in elder law.