A quick look at the difference between conservatorship and power of attorney

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One of the tools commonly used to address the needs of adults with mental health challenges is the conservatorship. As readers may know, a conservatorship is a court-appointed arrangement in which a conservator is empowered to make decisions regarding a protected person’s property and financial affairs. Conservatorship appointments allow families to help ensure a family member with mental health issues is taken care of from a financial perspective.

Conservatorship appointments require court involvement and there are costs. Because conservatorships are rather intrusive for an adult and all-encompassing in the authority they provide, they are not ideal in every situation involving an adult family member with mental health issues. Less restrictive alternatives exist which may be more appropriate in some circumstances. One of these alternatives is a power of attorney appointment.

Power of Attorney appointments involve an individual who manages the financial affairs of a principal. Power of attorneys give an adult with mental health issues the ability to determine who they will appoint to act on their behalf, when the authority of that trusted individual will go into effect, and the extent of that authority.

A power of attorney need not go into effect immediately nor terminate upon the principal’s incapacity. When a power of attorney is durable, the appointed individual is able to act on behalf of the principal even after the principal becomes incapacitated and unable to manage his or her financial affairs. When a power of attorney is springing, the appointed individual’s authority doesn’t go into effect until the principal is incapacitated.

Both power of attorney appointments and conservatorships have their place in caring for a loved one with mental health issues. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney can help families to determine not only the best arrangement for their situation, but also to ensure they have sound guidance in establishing the desired arrangement.