Image Of A Younger Woman Helping What Appears To Be Confused Senior With Paperwork. The image is shared in keeping with our estate planning law firm's blog post about financial conservatorship.

When Does Someone Need Financial Conservatorship?

When individuals cannot manage their finances, courts can appoint guardians and conservators. Financial conservatorship is for those who need help handling money.

In Massachusetts, this type of guardianship is referred to as a conservatorship and an individual can have both a guardian and a conservator appointed for them depending on their needs.

In cases where individuals need help with personal and financial decisions, the court can order guardianship of the person and conservator of the estate. The guardian makes both personal decisions while the conservator makes financial decisions for the protected person.

What Financial Conservatorship Entails

Financial conservatorship gives the conservator the authority to oversee the protected person’s finances and access money to pay bills. In many cases, the terms of the arrangement require the conservator to seek court approval before making financial actions on behalf of the ward, such as spending money and selling assets.

When Do Courts Order Financial Conservatorship of an Adult?

Courts appoint financial conservators when people demonstrate that they cannot handle their finances on their own.

  • Individuals who frequently forget to pay bills might need help with finances. For instance, a person might need help remembering to pay bills and handling money.
  • Those who are vulnerable to financial exploitation might also need conservators. For example, suppose a person makes significant payments to an online scammer. In that case, a loved one might petition the court to become the person’s guardian to protect them.
  • Individuals with diseases and disabilities that prevent them from understanding money may also need the help of a trusted person. For instance, dementia can cause people to have executive functioning difficulties that impact their ability to handle money.

When a person has significant assets but needs help managing them, courts will order financial conservatorship. Individuals with limited income and assets might not need financial conservators.

Alternatives to Financial Conservatorship

While providing protection and support, conservatorship limits autonomy. Many states require courts to explore less restrictive alternatives to conservatorship and guardianship before appointing a conservator and guardian. Those facing challenges with financial decisions should, along with their loved ones, first consider other options.

Financial Power of Attorney

Conservatorship is appropriate when a person is impaired and cannot make their own decisions. Suppose an individual still can make decisions and understand the consequences of their choices. In that case, the person can execute a power of attorney for property. This gives a trusted individual the ability to handle their assets.

Compared to financial conservatorship, an economic power of attorney can protect individuals’ rights while allowing someone to step in and help with monetary decisions. Under financial conservatorship, it is more difficult for the protected person to change the arrangement if disagreements with the conservator arise. The person subject to the arrangement must petition the court to terminate it.

Revoking a power of attorney is, by comparison, straightforward. As long as the individual who made a power of attorney retains capacity, they can withdraw their power of attorney at any time for any reason. They can also appoint a new agent without judicial oversight.

Those wondering whether they need someone to help with finances should speak with an elder law attorney.