In estate law, a "conservator" oversees someone's personal or financial affairs when the court judges that the person is unable to do so without help. The individual is called a "ward" and may be an orphaned child, an elderly person, or an adult who doesn't have the capacity to care for himself.
Conservators Are Appointed by the Court
For the conservator to have any legal standing, the court must make an official appointment. This typically involves filing a petition with the court, asking for the position. Before granting such a request, a judge must decide if the ward actually needs a conservator. In the case of a child, the issue might be clear-cut, but guardianship of an adult must usually be proved necessary through medical examinations showing that the person is incapable of independently making life and business decisions.
There Are Different Kinds of Conservators
Although terminology varies among states, some states recognize two different types of conservators: "conservators of the person" and "conservators of the estate." Conservators of the person care for the ward on a daily basis, such as by providing meals, shelter, and transportation. Conservators of the estate deal with the ward's income, assets, and debts. Courts can appoint one person to fulfill both roles, or they can appoint two separate conservators. In some states, conservators of the person are called "guardians" and the word "conservator" is used only for a person who manages a ward's finances.
A Conservator Isn't Always a Person
The court might appoint a trust company or bank as conservator of an adult's personal business affairs, particularly if the adult has complicated finances. This might also occur if an orphaned child receives a large inheritance. Typically, courts appoint individuals as conservators of the person.
Conservators Must Report to the Court
In most states, an appointed conservator must regularly report to the court. A conservator is not given free rein over a ward's finances without some sort of supervision. The conservator might have to file an initial report listing all the ward's assets, incomes and debts, then continue to provide yearly accountings of all transactions made on behalf of the ward. Conservators of the person usually have to report to the court annually as well.
An Estate Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding conservatorship is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an estate lawyer.