Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 19, 2018

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A conservatorship is a court ordered term of care for an incapacitated adult. This is not to be confused with a guardianship, or court ordered term of care for a minor. A conservatorship may be put into place when a physically or mentally incapacitated adult becomes unable to make decisions on his or her own. Responsibility for a conservatorship may be distributed among the people assigned to the personal and financial care of the individual, although this arrangement is usually drafted in advance of incapacitation.

The Length of a Conservatorship

A conservatorship will last as long as it is needed. It will end when the conservatee, or person who is the subject of the conservatorship, no longer needs a conservator. For example, if a person becomes unable to care for himself because of a medical condition, the conservatorship will end when he is treated or recovers sufficiently to care for himself again.

There are two types of conservatorships, planned and unplanned. When someone, especially an elderly individual, is diagnosed with a terminal condition, he or she will have time to plan a conservatorship. This form of planned conservatorship is typically part of a living will and is known as a durable power of attorney. When properly drafted and planned, that person will go under the care of their durable power of attorney when he or she deems it necessary. Typically, a durable power of attorney lasts for the duration of the person’s life and is especially useful when he or she does not wish for court interference.

An unplanned conservatorship is court ordered, and may be put in place when an injury or incident renders an individual unable to care for himself. In this case, the court will assign not only a conservator, but also a case worker for the person. The case worker will remain in contact with the conservator and make certain that the transition goes well.

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When a Conservatorship Ends

If the conservatee dies, the conservatorship of both the person and the estate will immediately end. At that point it will be up to the personal representative named in a will or the trustee of a trust to handle the estate or assets of the deceased.

The conservatorship of a person’s estate will also end when all the assets of the person are used up. A conservatorship of the person and personal care will continue regardless of funds, and the conservator will be responsible for seeking government assistance in the continued care of the individual. If the conservatee does not have a will or trust, then any assets will pass through the state’s probate and be distributed accordingly.

If a conservator is no longer willing or no longer able to act as conservator, that will not end the conservatorship. The conservatorship will continue if it is needed, but the courts will appoint a different person to act as the conservator. This is why many people who establish a planned conservatorship will name two to three caregivers in the event that the first must resign.

If you are a conservator needing guidance on your responsibilities and obligations, or if you’re planning a living trust, consult with an estate planning attorney to find out about local laws and procedures.