When there is convincing evidence that an impaired elder can no longer manage money, a family member may apply to the court to have a conservator appointed. The court order appointing the conservator will be written to address the specific financial problems facing the elder. In some cases, that will mean that the conservator will completely take control of the elder's money. In other situations, the conservatorship may be more limited, allowing the elder the dignity of controlling some money but restricting the elder's ability to transfer real estate or access investment accounts. After being appointed, the conservator must collect, protect and spend funds for the elder's benefit.
The person seeking to be appointed conservator must prove to the court that he or she has the skills to manage money. The conservator must also post a bond sufficient to guarantee that the elder's money remains safe. In some cases the requirement of a bond means that even well intentioned and honest family members cannot qualify to be a conservator. In these cases, the court will appoint a professional conservator to do the job.
A court order appointing a conservator denies an elder important rights that most of us take for granted. Thus, the elder is entitled to see all the papers filed in court and is given the opportunity to object. Copies of the documents prepared by the lawyer must also be given to the elder's closest relatives so that they too can object. If the elder objects, he or she can hire an attorney and in some cases the court will appoint an attorney. The elder has the right to make the relative who started the court proceeding prove the case for appointment with clear and convincing evidence.
If the court appoints a conservator, the person appointed must once a year provide the court with a thorough accounting of all money received by the elder and all money spent. Most conservators keep an attorney retained for as long as the conservatorship lasts. If the elder improves so that he or she is once again able to manage money, he or she may ask that the conservatorship terminate. If the elder dies while under a conservatorship, the money in the hands of the conservator is distributed according to the elder's estate plan.