My father is not able to handle his own financial matters. What can I do?

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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: Jul 15, 2021

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That depends on whether your father has already prepared for this possibility in his estate planning and on whether he is still legally competent to make decisions about his legal affairs. If your father has already signed some kind of power of attorney for his finances that will go into effect if he should become incapacitated or if he has set up a living trust and chosen someone to act as a Trustee if he is no longer able to act, then you can talk to him about relinquishing control in favor of the people he has already chosen to help him in this situation.

If your father has not planned ahead to cover this situation and is still competent to make legal decisions for himself, then he can sign a power of attorney giving you or someone else the power to handle his financial affairs for him. A power of attorney can name one or more than one person to handle his affairs, but if there is more than one and if they are required to act together, getting consensus on how to handle things will, undoubtedly, prove to be irritating and infuriating at times.

There are three types of powers of attorney: (1) a durable power of attorney that remains in effect during incompetence or other disability; (2) a standby power of attorney that is triggered when there is an incapacity to manage affairs; and (3) a temporary power of attorney that generally applies only if an emergency arises.

If your father has not planned ahead and if he is no longer competent to sign a power of attorney, then someone will have to go to court to ask for a conservatorship over his estate. (In some jurisdictions this might be called a guardianship of the estate.) This is different from a conservatorship (or guardianship) of a person. Your father would still be free to make his own decisions about personal things like where to live, what medical care to have, and so on. The court would appoint someone to look after his financial affairs under the supervision of the court. That person usually has to post a bond to protect your father’s estate from the effects of mismanagement.

A conservatorship proceeding can be expensive, particularly if your father doesn’t agree to let someone else have control. The costs for a conservatorship are taken out of your father’s assets, including any legal fees for advice needed or help preparing and submitting records to the court on a regular basis. For this reason, it’s much better for everyone to plan ahead to avoid this situation and the expenses associated with it.

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