For many people, probate court resolves contentious issues of an individual who passed away, such as omitted beneficiaries in a will or the terms of a trust. Conservatorships, however, provide a means by which individuals, known as conservators, assume legal responsibility for others who lack the ability to manage their affairs. A successful conservatorship requires conservators to fulfill duties to both the protected individuals—conservatees—and the court.
Position of responsibility and trust
Conservators obtain their authority to manage the affairs of specific individuals from judges after a legal review. Minors and incapacitated adults, such as those who have a mental illness or disability, physical illness or those under confinement, rank as the most eligible conservatees. The scope and duration of conservators’ duties correspond to the type of conservatorship granted: general, limited or temporary. These responsibilities include:
- Managing assets and finances—This distinguishes conservatorship from guardianship, which concerns an individual’s health and safety.
- Hiring Services—Important, depending upon whom the court appoints. Spouses or family members may serve as conservators, but a public fiduciary may also.
- Signing Documents—Court-approved document; required to sign many documents such as these.
Equally important, conservatees retain the right to change their conservators or terminate the conservatorship.
Conservatorship in Arizona
Title 14 of the Arizona Revised Statutes details the conservatorship process. The laws address a range of issues related to conservators: whom the court may appoint as conservator and conservators’ disclosure requirements to personal liability. One specific provision requires conservators to furnish a bond to protect the conservatees’ interests or assets in the event the conservators fail to perform their obligations. A second requires conservators to file an inventory of assets within 90 days of their appointment.
Unforeseen circumstances present unimaginable emotional and financial issues for families. Courts do not exclusively deal with adversarial disputes; they provide legal options to protect the interests of those who lack the ability to do so themselves. Attorneys with a background in conservatorship can provide guidance.