Can a Conservatorship Be Contested?
If your loved one has become incapacitated and is no longer able to manage their own finances or business affairs, a conservatorship might be necessary. Not to be confused with a guardianship — which gives authority to make medical and personal decisions on someone else’s behalf — a conservatorship only concerns financial matters. While conservatorships are meant to be put in place to protect a person who has demonstrated an inability to make decisions regarding their estate, there are various reasons they might be contested.
What is a Conservatorship?
A conservatorship is a legal arrangement in which a conservator is appointed by a court to perform financial functions on behalf of a person who is legally incapacitated — this is separate from a medical finding of incapacity and is determined by a judge. The duties and responsibilities of a conservator are specified in the order issued by the court and can include the power to pay bills, enter into contracts, collect debts, make investments, sell property, and borrow money.
Like guardianships, conservatorships are a powerful legal tool that should only be utilized when there are no other less restrictive alternatives. The person filing the petition for the conservatorship must show by “clear and convincing” evidence that the arrangement is needed. Under Minnesota law, a conservatorship ends upon the death of the protected person or upon order of the court. It can also terminate if the conservatorship is no longer needed to protect the individual for whom the conservator was appointed.
Reasons to Contest or Terminate a Conservatorship
There can be various reasons a conservatorship might be fought or contested. The most common time to contest a conservatorship is when it is first filed, on the grounds that it is not needed. However, contesting a conservatorship should not be confused with the process to end a conservatorship that is currently in existence. In these cases, a petition would need to be filed to terminate the conservatorship, rather than be contested.
If the family of the person subject to the conservatorship feels that the conservator is abusing their power or neglecting their responsibilities, there are certain measures they can take. Any interested party — or the person subject to the conservatorship — can submit a complaint to the court to terminate a conservatorship if they believe the conservator is not acting in the protected person’s best interests.
Common examples of conduct that would give rise to a contested conservatorship can include the following:
- The conservator is using the finances of the person subject to the conservatorship for their own benefit
- The conservator fails to provide a proper accounting of the person’s assets
- The conservator fails to pay the person’s bills
- The conservator is not adhering to the court order relating to their duties
- The conservator handles the person’s finances recklessly or carelessly
- The conservator is preventing the person subject to the conservatorship from seeing family or friends
Once a complaint has been received, it will be reviewed to determine whether it is appropriate to investigate the matter. A complaint may be dismissed if it does not allege maltreatment or if it addresses a matter that was already heard by the court. If an investigation is necessary, a copy of the complaint will be forwarded to the conservator who has 21 days to submit a written response. In addition, a Conservator Account Auditing Program Examiner may request more information from the complainant and draft a report — but they do not have the authority to remove or sanction a conservator. Rather, the district court will determine if further action is necessary after reviewing the report.
Additionally, if there is no conservatorship abuse, but an interested party believes the conservatorship should end, they must ask the court to issue an order. To request that the conservatorship arrangement currently in place be terminated, or to ask a judge to discharge the conservator, a petition must be filed in court and served on all interested parties. A hearing will be scheduled at which the petitioner will argue the facts asserted in the petition.
Are There Alternatives to a Conservatorship?
Courts only use conservatorships when there are no other options. Importantly, there are a few things you can do in advance to plan for the event of incapacitation. If you have a financial power of attorney or a revocable living trust in place, a conservatorship may not be necessary. These legal documents can specify a person to whom you give the authority to make financial decisions on your behalf and outline the conditions under which they take over. Unlike a conservatorship that must be decided by a judge, these alternatives are not subject to review by the court.
Other options that may be viable to avoid a conservatorship include joint bank accounts and owning property in joint tenancy. This can allow your spouse, or another person of your choice, to make financial decisions and access funds without a court order. But because there may be unintended tax and estate planning consequences with a joint tenancy, it’s important to discuss your options with a knowledgeable attorney.
Contact an Experienced Minnesota Conservatorship Attorney
Conservatorships can be highly nuanced and it’s vital to have a skilled attorney to help you navigate the legal process. At Dave Burns Law Office, I provide reliable representation and adept advocacy for Minnesota uncontested and contested conservatorship proceedings. If you would like to discuss a conservatorship matter, I welcome you to contact me at (612) 677-8351 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. I assist clients throughout the Twin Cities metro area and am available to meet with clients in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The Dave Burns Law Office hopes you find this article helpful. But please do not rely on it as legal advice. The law changes regularly and the outcome of any legal matter depends on its unique circumstances. View full disclaimer