When someone is disabled and can’t make decisions for themselves, another person may be assigned by the court to make decisions for them. This person is known as their conservator and the relationship between the two parties is called a conservatorship.
However, conservatorships do not automatically grant conservators the rights to make ALL decisions for the person who is in their care. There are two types of conservatorships with varying levels of control:
- Limited conservatorship
Conservators in these legal arrangements have the right to make some decisions for the people in their care, but not all. In Tennessee, conservatorships are limited to areas in which a person lacks the capacity to make a decision.
- Full conservatorship
Conservators in these legal arrangements have the right to make virtually all major life decisions for the people in their care. This can range from financial and medical decisions to getting married, voting, getting a driver’s license, and even finding a place to live. This is by far the most common type of conservatorship.
Both limited and full conservatorships are often ordered when people refuse or are simply incapable of turning over important decision-making aspects of their lives to others, such as through power of attorney.
Who Needs a Conservatorship?
People who are most commonly entered into conservatorships include:
- Mentally disabled adults
- Elderly adults with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other cognitive problems
- Adults who are mentally incapacitated due to injury or illness
Typical conservatorships include parents making decisions on behalf of their disabled children or people making decisions on behalf of elderly parents, grandparents, and other relatives who are no longer capable of doing so themselves.
How Do You Become a Conservator?
Anyone can become a conservator, and it’s not limited to family members. People who can be appointed as conservator of others include friends, neighbors, healthcare workers, church members, and others who have relationships with people who they want to help by making decisions for them.
Becoming a conservator requires getting a court order. Obtaining this order requires medical proof indicating that the person who needs the conservatorship is incapable of making sound decisions about their finances, healthcare, or other important aspects of life. It also requires witness testimony to further reinforce the point that the person in question needs someone making decisions on their behalf.
Conservatorships Are Often Adversarial Processes
Establishing a conservatorship is not always a smooth process, especially in the case of limited conservatorships where the person whose decision-making rights are being removed is competent in other areas of their life. Not only is the process of establishing the conservatorship complex, but it also requires ongoing legal proceedings to maintain it.
It’s important to take as many steps as possible before a conservatorship is needed, as other arrangements are often better for everyone involved. That includes estate planning and setting up power of attorney for both finances and medical care, as these are two of the most common decisions that are transferred to conservators.
Do People in Conservatorships Have Rights?
People who are being entered into conservatorships have the right to tell the court their own wants and needs, even if they are in opposition of what the potential or current conservator wants for them. They also have the right to appeal any decisions about who is appointed as their conservator.
Like many court orders, Tennessee conservatorship orders are based on what’s in the best interests of the person who is being placed into the conservatorship. If the court decides that they will be better off with a conservator making decisions on their behalf, that’s typically what will happen unless there’s substantial proof to show otherwise, including regaining mental capacity in the areas where they were deemed deficient.
We Can Assist with Conservatorship, Power of Attorney, Estate Planning, and More
Conservatorships have their place in Tennessee law, and they can help families and individuals through tough times during their lives. But in many cases, the legal process of conservatorships can be avoided with proactive planning—especially with the help of a lawyer.
At Ralls & Wooten, our Maryville family law attorneys work hard to do what’s right for our clients and their families. Whether it’s helping to establish a conservatorship, establishing power of attorney for medical and financial matters, or just general estate planning, we secure peace of mind for our clients throughout East Tennessee.
Contact us today for a free consultation. We want to put our years of experience to work for your family.