Every U.S. state enacts guardianship or conservatorship laws to handle instances when citizens become physically or mentally incapacitated. For instance, many are familiar with Britney Spears’ case; her family used California’s conservatorship laws to involuntarily admit her to a mental institution. During that time, her father was designated as her conservator in order to look after her and take care of her finances.
Many individuals often forget to plan for disability in later life and avoid guardianship or conservatorship when making their estate plan. Disability planning involves the following two major considerations:
- Deciding who will look after you well being, and
- Deciding who will manage your finances
Let’s take a moment to review the concept of guardianship or conservatorship:
Guardianship, or conservatorship as it is called in some states, is a legal process designed to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated individual, called the “ward”, and that person’s finances. The process is imposed and supervised by a state court which appoints a family member as the “guardian” or “conservator” to take care of some or all legal rights of the ward.
What happens when you do not have a disability plan in place?
In the absence of a disability plan, a guardianship or conservatorship will be put in place. A guardianship is designed to provide for your personal well-being and to manage your finances according to state law. This can lead to family disharmony, since the judge determining guardianship will typically appoint someone from the family as the guardian or conservator of the disabled person. In some cases no family member may be willing to take on the guardianship role; in other cases jealousy or hard feelings may occur.