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October 31st, 2008 · No Comments

This week in the news conservertorships and guardianships were a regular topic for discussion as one of the world’s biggest pop stars has been permanently placed under a conservatorship run by her father.  So, what exactly is a conservatorship, and how does it work?  A conservatorship occurs when a court issues an order allowing a person, business, or entity to have control over another person or entity.

In a conservatorship, the person with the control is called the conservator, while the person or entity being controlled is called the conservatee. A court will only grant someone as a conservator if it is shown that person in question is legally incapable of managing their own estate or affairs. A person can be incapable if they are physical or mental disabilities or illness.

In many states, a conservatorship is also called a guardianship. A guardianship, while also generated by a court order, creates a guardian/ward relationship where the guardian is legally responsible for the person and/or property of the ward.  One difference between a conservatorship and a guardianship is with minors.  There is an assumption that a parent is a guardian of their minor child.  Also, there are two different types of guardian relationships.  A guardian who is responsible for both the personal and financial care of a ward is called a general guardian.  However, if the guardian has limited legal authority, they are called a special guardian.  For example, in a special guardian/ward relationship, the special guardian may only have authority to control the finances of their ward, but cannot control what the ward does with their body, or in their personal relationships.

A conservatorship is not something taken lightly by the courts.  In fact, these types of cases are often very controversial.  To begin the process of creating a conservatorship, the person wishing to become conservator files a petition with the appropriate court identifying the potential conservatee and providing evidence to show why the person lacks capacity to control their own affairs. Once the petition is filed, the court will order a professional to evaluate the situation and provide a written report.  A the potential conservatee, is of course allowed to fight the conservatorship, in which case their will be a trial. If there is no dispute, the court will conduct a hearing in which witness provide statements and the court can then decide to grant a conservator.  The court will then provide the conservator documents that grant the conservator authority to make decisions on behalf of the conservatee.

Once appointed, the conservator must assess the conservatee’s assets, and report this information to the court.  If the conservator will be required to make any payments on behalf of the conservatee’s estate, a special account must be created.  The conservator is under close scrutiny and must report all expenses and payments to the court.  For the work performed by the conservator, they are allowed to be paid a salary from the conservatee’s estate.

Guardianship and conservatorship matters are generally handled by a probate court in the jurisdiction where the conservatee resides.  While some of the general information could be public record, there are a lot of sensitive issues associated with these types of proceeding that are not public.  In matters involving minors or those without capacity, courts typically do not allow public access to this information. However, laws and procedures will vary by jurisdiction.  To learn more about conservatorship laws and courts, you may find it helpful to try the online resources available through


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