What is a Conservatorship?
Conservatorship is a legal process that appoints a person (known as the conservator) to manage the financial and property affairs of another person (the protectee) who is unable to do so due to disability, age, or other incapacities.
In Missouri, there’s a distinction between conservatorship and guardianship. While both are legal mechanisms to help those who can’t help themselves, a guardian is responsible for personal and healthcare decisions, whereas a conservator manages financial matters and property affairs. A court can appoint both a guardian and a conservator for the same individual, or they may combine the roles, depending on the circumstances.
Conservatorship Proceedings in Missouri: The Step-by-Step Process
- Step 1: Filing the Petition
The process of conservatorship in Missouri begins when someone (the petitioner), who could be a family member, a friend, or a public or private agency, submits a petition to the probate division of the local circuit court. This petition should provide essential details about the proposed protectee and the reasons why a conservatorship is deemed necessary.
- Step 2: Attorney Appointed and Medical Affidavit
Once the petition is submitted, the court appoints an attorney to represent the proposed protectee’s interests. The court also requires that a Medical Affidavit be submitted by a qualified professional who has assessed the proposed protectee’s physical and mental condition and capability to manage personal and financial affairs. The Medical Affidavit helps the court determine the protectee’s level of incapacitation.
- Step 3: Hearing
After the completion of the medical evaluation, a hearing takes place before a judge. The petitioner, proposed protectee, the attorney for the proposed protectee, and any other interested parties may testify during this hearing. Evidence supporting the necessity for a conservator, such as the evaluation report, is presented. Based on this, the judge will determine if the proposed protectee indeed requires a conservator and the degree of their incapacity.
- Step 4: Appointment of Conservator
If the judge concludes that the proposed protectee is incapacitated and requires a conservator, the court will then appoint an individual as conservator based on the following order: (1) the wishes of the protectee; (2) if the protectee is unable to properly communicate, then the person nominated by the protectee prior to incapacity in a power of attorney; (3) the protectee’s family member(s); and (4) a public administrator.
Duties and Responsibilities of a Conservator
Once appointed, a conservator assumes a fiduciary responsibility towards their protectee. The conservator must always act in the protectee’s best interest and manage their affairs responsibly. These duties include managing the protectee’s finances, maintaining accurate records, and reporting periodically to the court about the status of the protectee’s estate.
The conservator’s actions are closely supervised by the court to ensure the protectee’s rights and interests are adequately safeguarded. The conservator can’t make certain decisions, such as selling the protectee’s property, without the court’s approval.
The Role of the Court
Courts in Missouri play a pivotal role in the conservatorship process. Apart from directing the appointment and actions of the conservator, they are tasked with protecting the protectee’s rights. The court can modify the conservatorship, increase or limit the conservator’s powers, or even terminate the conservatorship if it finds the protectee’s condition has improved.
Understanding the conservatorship process in Missouri can be challenging, but it is vital to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are protected and cared for. Engaging a legal professional well-versed in conservatorship proceedings can be incredibly helpful in navigating this complex process, providing necessary guidance and advice to ensure the best possible outcome for the protectee.