Understanding Conservatorship and Power of Attorney

Peter Hafner |

In life we often find ourselves at the receiving end of unexpected tragedies. Whether these events happen to those that we cherish most or even to ourselves, it is important to take note that the unexpected aspects of our lives are often correlated with many unforeseen financial costs. One of the biggest struggles of getting older is watching our bodies grow weaker and new physical hurdles become a daily aspect of life. While some are lucky to avoid these tribulations, the sad reality is that most of us will have to deal with some kind of a permanent or temporary physical handicap at some point in our lives. Reflecting on the realities of aging is an important aspect to analyze in our own lives but it’s also important to address them with the people that we care about most before they can create other difficulties later.

Age brings with it the greater risk of suffering a severe or very sudden risk of hospitalization or even death. If the proper actions aren’t taken to ensure the management of assets, unnecessary expenses could be spent in states of legal limbo. A few ways to get around this is through conservatorships and power of attorney. Both of these documents give a spectrum of responsibilities and decision making powers from one individual to another if they are physically or mentally unable to make sound decisions themselves. Although both of these legal rights are often painted with a negative connotation in popular culture and the media, it is important to understand exactly what they are and why they are important.

Conservatorship and power of attorney are often lumped together as one and the same but they differ in a few but very important key aspects. The most important difference between the two is that conservatorship is usually done when a person is physically encapicatated or legally deemed mentally unwell, must go through a court of law, and approved by a judge. Conservatorships are normally viewed as lifelong and a kind of adult guardianship meant to help an individual who could be more susceptible to financial or legal exploitation. A power of attorney is usually made before a person is incapcitated, only needs to be approved by a notary, and is less legally binding in the long term.

If for whatever reason you need to make the decision of whether or not to seek conservatorship or power of attorney there are a few key considerations to make beforehand. The most important consideration to make is the severity and the duration of the affliction the individual may be suffering from. Conservatorship really should only be viewed as a last or emergency resort if all other options are exhausted. If you believe an individual may be suffering from this affliction for the rest of their life then this would be the most reasonable option to make. By and large usually the best option to consider for anyone is simply assigning power of attorney. While many people view conservatorship as a kind of guardianship for adults and in many ways it is, it is important to remember that a person whether they are suffering from a physical or mental ailment is an adult and should be treated with a fair and proper dignity. When so much control already has to be let go of later in life, sitting down with a loved one, and discussing exactly what they want financially and medically ensures a lot of heartache and pain will be saved later if they are unable to express their wishes.