conservatorship lawyer in HopkinsvilleMaking end-of-life decisions can pose challenging and uncomfortable choices. Proper end-of-life preparations can help individuals maintain agency over their legal and medical rights. Creating and implementing planning documents can avoid legal intervention if an adult becomes incapacitated. An incapacitated person who needs help with essential decisions is referred to as a “ward.” In the face of providing care for an incapacitated loved one, family members may want to protect them from exploitation by considering a conservatorship. 

While there is no” typical” adult conservatorship case, there are situations that courts commonly address through the conservatorship process. Conservatorships are common in cases where the person in question (ward) has dementia, mental illness, or physical and developmental disabilities. This process is part of a continuum of legal mechanisms designed to help incapacitated individuals with legal or medical decision-making. 

Conservatorship is often a costly and time-consuming process, requiring multiple court hearings and the ongoing assistance of an experienced lawyer. The Tennessee conservatorship attorneys at Batson Nolan PLC serve as a critical resource to families throughout this complex process. Contact us today. 

What Is a Conservatorship?

Under Tennessee Code Annotated 34-1-101(4)(A), conservatorship—also known as guardianship outside of the state—is a voluntary or involuntary legal mechanism in which the court removes an adult’s legal rights. During this proceeding, the court removes the decision-making powers and duties, in whole or in part, from a person with a disability who lacks the capacity to make decisions in one or more essential areas.

In most cases, the court will look at personal and financial decision-making power independently. Adult conservatorships can include individual decision-making, such as establishing residency or making medical decisions. Conservatorships may also allow the conservator to make financial choices and maintain control over real and personal property. The court transfers the responsibility for one or more of these decisions to a conservator or co-conservators. 

Types of Conservatorships

There are three types of conservatorships in Tennessee: full, limited, and temporary.

  • Full or Plenary: In these cases, the conservator maintains complete control of the ward’s finances. This designation typically occurs when the ward is wholly incapacitated.
  • Limited conservatorship: Under this designation, the conservator has specific powers relative to the ward’s limitations. 
  • Temporary conservatorship: Courts will grant this when a ward’s needs are temporary or if another conservatorship is pending. 

Tennessee conservatorship lawyers can help people in conservatorships, as well as those seeking conservatorships, to understand their rights. 

Appointing a Conservator

Conservators refer to a court-appointed individual who handles the ward’s financial or daily life affairs. A conservator may not be needed in cases where the incapacitated person planned ahead. However, in the absence of planning, family members must ask the court to appoint a conservator or guardian. 

Before appointing a conservator, the court must find that the potential ward has a disability and a conservatorship is the “least restrictive” alternative to protect them. These decisions are based on evidence that the potential ward requires a conservator. Typical forms of evidence are medical proof, such as psychological and physical exams, and testimony describing the ward’s limitations. Any interested party can petition the court for conservatorship. 

Commonly Removed and Transferred Rights in a Tennessee Conservatorship 

If the court does not explicitly remove a right, then the ward retains the right. Common rights that the court might remove and transfer include:

  • Execution of legal documents;
  • Finance management;
  • Purchase and disposal of real and personal property;
  • Prosecution and defense of lawsuits;
  • Medical treatment decisions; and
  • Management of government services and benefits.

In some cases, the interested parties may modify or terminate a conservatorship. Termination or modification may be appropriate if the circumstances of the ward or conservator change. 

Who Qualifies to Be a Conservator?

In Tennessee, the court may appoint anyone to serve as a conservator; however, the court will consider individuals in this order:

  1. The person that the ward designated in writing to be responsible before becoming incapacitated or disabled;
  2. The ward’s spouse;
  3. The ward’s adult child;
  4. The next closest relative; 
  5. The district public guardian; or
  6. Any other willing, able, and appropriate individual.

In some cases, the court may appoint standby or co-conservators. 

How Do Conservatorships Work?

In most cases, the court strives to strike a balance between protecting a ward’s autonomy and protecting the ward and others from potentially harmful choices. 

The person seeking a conservatorship must file a petition with the Tennessee court in the county where the ward resides. The petition must include a report by a qualifying medical examiner that explains the proposed ward’s medical condition. The court will then appoint a “guardian ad litem” to investigate the case and recommend whether a conservatorship is necessary. In addition, the court may appoint an “attorney ad litem” to represent the ward if the court decides this is necessary to protect their rights. 

The court maintains the final decision-making power to: 

  • Determine whether an individual needs a conservator; 
  • Designate the conservator; and 
  • Establish any necessary limitations. 

While literature is rife with benefits and critiques of conservatorship, it remains clear that in many cases, a conservatorship is the only practical way to protect a person’s interests. 

Conservator Disputes

Conservatorship is a highly complex and sensitive issue to many people. As such, conservators may find themselves in legal conflicts and disputes. These issues may involve allegations that the conservator:

  • Failed to perform their duties appropriately; 
  • Engaged in fraud or misrepresentation;
  • Misused funds for personal gain; or
  • Violated laws.

A Tennessee conservatorship lawyer can help individuals address these potential conflicts. 

Contact the Hopkinsville Conservatorship Attorneys at Batson Nolan PLC to Schedule a Free Consultation Today

If you are looking for assistance with the conservatorship process or seeking ways to avoid the need for a complex conservatorship proceeding in the future, reach out to Batson Nolan PLC for immediate assistance. Our lawyers have more than 160 years of experience helping families navigate the challenging choices they face related to conservatorships and guardianships. We also have a staff of estate planning attorneys ready to assist you with any other long-term care planning needs. To learn more and schedule a free consultation, call one of our offices. You can also connect with us through our secure online contact form.  

Our firm handles a variety of other cases as well, including: