Guardians and/or conservators may be appointed for minors or incapacitated individuals unable to care for themselves or effectively manage their finances. Any suitable person over 18 years of age willing to contribute to the welfare of another may be selected to serve in a guardian or conservator role. They will take on decision-making responsibilities for various aspects of the individual’s life to ensure that their best interests are protected. If you are seeking to become a loved one’s guardian and/or conservator, speak with a skilled attorney about your case. These proceedings can be complex, and it is essential to have legal help on your side throughout.
At Willis Law, our Grand Rapids guardianship and conservatorship attorneys are here to deliver the compassionate guidance you need. Our practice is based on the principle of being of service to others while demonstrating empathy and kindness. We recognize that this can be a challenging and emotional time for you and your family. We want to ensure that you understand the process of becoming a loved one’s guardian and/or conservator and your duties upon selection.
When Is a Guardian or Conservator Appointed?
A probate court might determine that an adult needs a guardian or conservator when the individual is legally incapacitated. To be incapacitated means that the individual cannot understand or make informed decisions about their care or finances.
An adult may be considered legally incapacitated for reasons such as the following:
- Mental illness
- Mental deficiency
- Physical illness
- Drug or alcohol addiction
The court has several functions in these matters. First, it will determine whether the individual needs a fiduciary. Second, it will decide who should be appointed. Third, once a fiduciary is selected, the court will maintain a supervisory role to ensure that the individual is adequately cared for or that the finances are managed effectively.
If the individual selected someone to serve as a durable power of attorney or named someone in their will or trust to make decisions on their behalf, a guardian or conservator may not need to be appointed.
What Is a Guardianship?
A guardian is someone appointed by a probate court to make decisions about the care of an incapacitated individual. They are responsible for ensuring that the individual’s personal needs are met. In some situations, they may also be appointed to manage the individual’s estate.
The duties of a guardian can include, but are not limited to:
- Providing food and clothing to the individual
- Finding an appropriate place of residence for the individual
- Getting the individual proper medical treatment
- Handling the individual’s finances and property (if a conservator is not appointed)
- Arranging training and education for the individual
- Caring for the individual’s personal effects
Because appointing a guardian limits an individual’s decision-making powers in their own life, courts are diligent in assessing each situation and deciding what authority to give the fiduciary. The court will not grant to the guardian responsibilities the individual can take care of themselves. Thus, it may appoint a limited guardian, who only handles matters the individual cannot.
Our Grand Rapids guardianship and conservatorship lawyers can discuss the situations in which a guardian may need to be appointed and work with you to seek to be selected in this role.
What Is a Conservatorship?
A conservator is appointed in situations where an incapacitated individual is unable to effectively manage their finances.
Ineffective handling of finances may include, but is not limited to:
- Wasting money
- Not maintaining property
- Not spending money on one’s own needs or care
The conservator would take responsibility of the individual’s estate, such as their income, stocks, bonds, bank accounts, and real estate. They are required to use the estate only for the individual’s benefit. They cannot use any funds for their personal needs nor intermingle their own money with the individual’s.
If your loved one is struggling with their finances because a physical or mental condition is limiting their abilities, reach out to our Grand Rapids guardianship and conservatorship attorneys about your options for helping protect their estate.
How Is a Guardian or Conservator Appointed?
For someone to be appointed as a fiduciary for an incapacitated individual, they must go through a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding. The process begins with the filing of a petition. Either a concerned person or the individual themselves may submit this document. The petition is a written request to a probate court, asking that a guardian or conservator be appointed. It also enumerates the reasons a fiduciary is needed.
After the person files the petition with the probate court, they must serve a copy of the document to all interested parties. Serving others involved in the matter ensures that everyone knows that the legal process has commenced. Failing to serve the petition can result in the case being dismissed.
When the petition is received, the court will schedule a hearing. The hearing is where a judge determines whether the petitioner has shown that the individual lacks the capacity to make informed decisions and that a guardian or conservator is necessary to provide for the individual’s well-being.
If the court decides that a guardian or conservator is needed, the fiduciary’s duties will begin after they accept the appointment. The fiduciary is responsible not only for caring for the individual but also for updating the court on the individual’s condition. Annually, the guardian or conservator must file a report with the court concerning the individual’s well-being and financial health (if necessary).
The above is an abbreviated account of the process of appointing a conservator or guardian. The actual proceedings are more complex. Our Grand Rapids guardianship and conservatorship lawyers will be by your side every step of the way, explaining what needs to be done and when and what is expected of you at each stage.
Contested Guardianships and Conservatorships
Guardianship and conservatorship proceedings are highly emotional. After all, they limit an individual’s ability to make decisions in their own life. Additionally, the person appointed to serve as a fiduciary is entrusted with protecting a vulnerable individual’s well-being.
As such, the incapacitated individual themselves might not want a guardian or conservator appointed for them, or family members might disagree about who should serve in this role. In some situations, allegations may arise about the guardian or conservator breaching their fiduciary duties.
At Willis Law, we have experience helping family members through contested proceedings. Recognizing the sensitive nature of these matters, our team handles these cases delicately. We understand that there are varying perspectives on how situations should be resolved. Keeping that in mind, we build a compelling legal strategy focused on protecting our clients’ best interests. Our Grand Rapids guardianship and conservatorship attorneys are ready to help you through any challenges that might arise.
Can a Guardian or Conservator Be Appointed for a Minor?
As mentioned earlier, guardianship and conservatorship proceedings apply to cases involving adults or minors. Thus, someone can be appointed a guardian or conservator of a child.
Anyone concerned with protecting a minor’s well-being can submit a petition to serve as a fiduciary in the child’s life. If the child is 14 years of age or older, they can file documents themselves.
The court will hold a hearing to decide whether appointing a fiduciary is in a child's best interest and who would best serve in that role.
Full guardianship of a minor can be appointed if:
- Both parents’ parental rights have been terminated
- Parents have allowed the minor to live with another person but did not give then legal authority to care for the child
- Parents were not married, the custodial parent dies or goes missing, and the other parent does not have legal custody
As with an incapacitated adult, the person selected to serve as a minor’s guardian or conservator will have the authority to make decisions concerning the child’s welfare. Their duties may include caring for the child, protecting their assets, and managing their finances.
A guardianship or conservatorship can be terminated:
- When the minor reaches 18 years of age,
- If the minor becomes emancipated,
- If the minor marries, or
- If any interested person or the minor (if they are 14 years of age or older) petitions to end the guardianship or conservatorship.
To learn more about becoming a guardian or conservator for a minor, reach out to our firm.
Here to Help with Grand Rapids Guardianship and Conservatorship Matters
At Willis Law, we care about helping our clients through difficult legal situations. Our team delivers counsel with integrity and honesty. You can be confident that when you retain our services, you will receive straightforward answers to your questions and clear discussions about your concerns.
For help from a legal team committed to protecting the best interests of you and your loved one, schedule a consultation by calling our Grand Rapids guardianship and conservatorship lawyers at (888) 461-7744 or submitting an online contact form.
Michael Willis J.D., C.P.A. Director and Co-Founder
Shaun Willis J.D. Director and Co-Founder
Frank Willis J.D. Chief Senior Counsel
Donald Smith, J.D. Attorney/Partner
Mariko Willis, J.D. Of Counsel Attorney
Samuel Gilbertson J.D. Managing Partner
Davis Martin, J.D. Of Counsel Attorney
Paul Morgan, J.D. Senior Counsel Attorney
Chico Obande J.D. Attorney
Jennifer Grahek, J.D. Attorney
Aric Kasel, J.D. Attorney
Cody Hayward, J.D. Attorney
Austin Beaudet Attorney
Adam Bancroft, J.D. Of Counsel Attorney
Verelle Kirkwood J.D. Of Counsel Attorney
Kristyn Meulenberg J.D. Of Counsel Attorney
Nicholas Vogelzang Of Counsel Asbestos Litigation Attorney
Robin Vleugel Receptionist
Michele Guyman Paralegal
Brian Thompson Paralegal
Patty Stickels Legal Assistant
Kay Davidson Legal Assistant
Karen Zimmerman Legal Assistant
Robert Wilson Chief Financial Officer
Mark Zigterman Accountant
Margarita Jensen Intake Coordinator
Patrick Willis Courier
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