At some time in your life you may be faced with a difficult decision – whether or not to step in and seek to become a conservator or guardian. Although it is often not an easy decision, failing to make the decision can have devastating consequences for the individual involved. Understanding what a conservator or guardian in Missouri actually does may help you decide how to proceed.
Under Missouri law, you may petition the court to become either a guardian over the person or a conservator over the estate (or both) of a minor or an incapacitated adult. An adult is considered to be incapacitated when he or she is “unable to receive and understand information or to communicate decisions because of a physical or mental condition to such an extent that he or she is at risk and cannot meet his/her basic needs such as food, shelter, medical care or safety.” Often, guardianship or conservatorship is needed when an elderly individual suffers from Alzheimer’s or another dementia related disease.
A conservatorship gives you authority over the estate of the ward (the person who is incapacitated). A conservatorship may be full or limited, meaning you may only be given authority to make very specific decisions over the ward’s estate or all decisions. As conservator, you might decide what property of the ward’s to sell, what contracts to enter into in the name of the ward, and what bills need to be paid.
A guardianship gives you authority over the person, or the ward himself or herself. As in a conservatorship, a guardianship may be fill or limited. As guardian, you might decide where the ward will live, what activities the ward engages in, and what dentist the ward will use.
You may also be appointed as both the guardian and conservator over an individual. In both a guardianship and conservatorship the court will retain oversight over the appointment, meaning that you will need to report to the court from time to time to ensure that you are fulfilling your duties properly.
To obtain either conservatorship or guardianship over someone you must file a petition with the appropriate court and state your reasons why a conservator and/or guardian are needed. The intended ward has a right to be notified of the petition and to object to the appointment. The court will hold a hearing and hear evidence regarding the individual’s incapacity as well as why the petitioner should be appointed as guardian and/or conservator. If the court agrees, the judge will issue letters of guardianship/conservatorship explaining what duties and responsibilities the guardian/conservator has from that point on.
Consult with your estate planning attorney if you believe that seeking guardianship or conservatorship over a loved one is necessary.