Seeing a loved one lose their ability to live independently or manage their own affairs is heartbreaking. Whether they’re mentally incapacitated or suffering from a disability, your loved one is vulnerable. But you can do something to protect them. In this blog, we explain what you need to know about Tennessee’s conservatorship process.
What Is a Conservatorship?
A conservatorship is a legal proceeding where a court appoints someone to manage the personal and financial affairs of someone who has physical or mental limitations. The “ward” is the person who the court deems incapable of making decisions for themselves. The “conservator” is the individual or entity with legal authority over the ward.
Conservatorships are serious proceedings because the ward may lose certain legal rights, such as the right to execute legal documents, to vote, to hold a valid driver’s license, and to refuse medical treatment. If the court finds that the ward is disabled or incapacitated, the conservator has the authority to exercise the ward’s legal rights, but only those that the court approves.
What Are the Different Types of Conservatorships?
There are three forms of conservatorship: conservator of the person, property, or both. The type of conservatorship appropriate for the ward depends on their needs. Conservatorships can be temporary or permanent. Temporary or emergency conservatorships are typically sought when the alleged disabled person is in a life-threatening situation or is expected to regain competence.
Conservator of the Person
This type of conservatorship is appropriate when the ward can no longer take care of themselves from a personal standpoint. For example, the conservator is responsible for the ward’s well-being and must make decisions regarding the ward’s personal hygiene, social interactions, accommodations, and medical care.
Conservator of the Property
A conservator of the property manages the ward’s assets and makes financial and legal decisions for the ward. This may include overseeing the ward’s bank and investment accounts, filing taxes, and paying bills.
Conservator of the Person and Property
When a person is deemed completely incapacitated, the court may appoint conservatorship of the person and property. The conservator has full decision-making power over the ward but can only do what the court allows. This can include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Withholding or consenting to medical treatment,
- Applying for government benefits,
- Executing legal documents,
- Suing and defending lawsuits,
- Making purchases, and
- Determining social interactions and engagements.
As this list indicates, conservators often have the power to make life-altering decisions for the ward.
Why Might Your Loved One Need a Conservatorship?
Conservatorships are necessary for those who have lost the ability to make informed decisions for themselves. This loss of decision-making capacity may be the result of an accident, illness (e.g., Alzheimer’s or dementia), or old age. When a person’s mental or physical capabilities decline, they’re vulnerable to scammers and people they trust who take advantage of them. For example, elder financial abuse occurs when someone improperly uses an older person’s assets for their own personal benefit. Some elders become victims of undue influence, where a person pressures them to create or modify estate planning documents that benefit the perpetrator.
What Is the Conservatorship Process?
There are multiple steps and phases to the process of conservatorship.
File a Petition
The first step is to file a petition with the court where the alleged disabled person lives. The petition must include specific information, such as:
- The name, date of birth, and mailing address of the disabled person;
- A description of the disability;
- The relationship between the petitioner and the disabled person;
- The name, age, and mailing address of the proposed conservator;
- A sworn statement from the conservator indicating their willingness to serve;
- A summary of facts supporting the petitioner’s reason for requesting the conservatorship;
- The name of the disabled person’s physician; and
- The rights that the petitioner wants to transfer to the conservator.
The petitioner must also include either a sworn physician’s examination report or the disabled person’s statement refusing an examination. Medical and psychological reports are key documents for the judge when determining the alleged disabled person’s competency.
Attend a Hearing
After submitting all documents and serving notice of the proceeding to the appropriate parties, a hearing will take place. Both sides present evidence, including testimony from physicians, psychologists, family members, and other witnesses.
If the court determines that a conservator is necessary for the ward, the court will sign an order naming the conservator and listing the powers removed from the ward and transferred to the conservator.
The process to gain conservatorship might seem overwhelming. Reach out to one of the conservatorship attorneys at Batson Nolan PLC for assistance protecting your loved one.
How Long Does a Conservatorship Take to Process?
The length to complete a conservatorship proceeding depends on the situation. If the disabled person is in a life-threatening situation, a court may order an emergency, temporary conservatorship within a few days. On the other hand, if someone contests the conservatorship (meaning they don’t agree with the need for a conservator), the process could drag on for months.
Do You Need a Conservatorship Lawyer?
There’s no legal requirement to hire a lawyer to represent you when pursuing a conservatorship. However, the conservatorship process is full of statutory requirements, legal issues, paperwork, and deadlines. An experienced attorney can help with a variety of tasks and make the process smoother. From completing and filing the petition to gathering supporting evidence and preparing you for the court hearing, a conservatorship lawyer is invaluable.
Speak with the Conservatorship Lawyers at Batson Nolan PLC
Pursuing a conservatorship can be emotionally draining. Let us handle the legal side of the process. Our conservatorship attorneys have helped countless clients gain conservatorship so that their loved ones are taken care of. With hundreds of years of combined legal experience, our attorneys know how to handle the complex legal issues that arise in a conservatorship proceeding. Call our office or contact us online to discuss your case and see how Batson Nolan PLC can help.