In recent months the high-profile case of musician Britney Spears has thrust conservator disputes into the national spotlight. To help you better understand how this process works, let’s take a closer look at how conservatorships are established and the rules for contesting them.
Establishing a Conservatorship
Sometimes people become unable to manage their own affairs, due to things such as age-related cognitive decline, traumatic injury or mental illness. When such events occur, family members of the person in question will often seek to have a conservatorship established.
If granted by a probate court, a conservatorship gives power over the affairs of a person to a court-appointed decision maker who is required to act in their best interest. Often, courts appoint guardians to handle medical decisions, and conservators to handle financial decisions. A court can choose one person to fill both roles, or two separate people, or merely appoint one and not the other.
By making these appointments, courts try to ensure that a person cannot damage their own health or finances because they are not capable of making informed decisions.
What Happens if There is a Dispute?
While conservatorships are designed to help, whether they succeed or not ultimately falls on the people designated to fill that role. Sometimes conservators act in their own interest, rather than in the interest of the person they are legally obligated to protect. On other occasions, a person who was once incapable of informed decisions recovers and becomes capable of overseeing her own affairs. By the same token, a conservator may be unfairly accused of acting out of self-interest, and a person with diminished capacity may feel they are recovered, yet still behave in a way that invites concern.
When scenarios such as these unfold, a conservator dispute may arise. These disputes may take the form of a person under a conservatorship seeking to have it ended or modified, or the family of a person under a conservatorship seeking to have the conservator changed. Disputes may also arise during the initial creation of the conservatorship. Siblings may disagree over who is the best person to fill that role for a parent. If someone has been married multiple times, this may also create complications in terms of whom to choose to fill important probate positions.
In such cases, a judge will hear evidence from both parties. This may include financial records, medical records and the evaluation of the person in question by independent professionals. Once all evidence and testimony is submitted, a judge will make the ultimate determination. A conservatorship may be dissolved or modified according to the judge’s perception of the best interest of the person involved.
Do I Need a Legal Advocate?
Conservatorship disputes are often quite tricky to navigate. Raising the stakes is the fact that probate decisions are reversed on appeal less frequently than other court decisions. This means that it is crucial to make your best case at the outset of the process — and an experienced legal partner is essential for that to happen.
Modifying or overturning a conservatorship can also be a difficult challenge. In all such scenarios, the help of a law firm that specializes in this kind of litigation can make an important difference.