power of attorneyThis is the next post in a series of articles discussing conservatorships in Hartford, Connecticut. Our previous article discussed the differences between powers of attorney and conservatorships. While they are similar in that another person is given the power to take actions on behalf of the principal or ward, the two are very different from a legal perspective. The primary distinction is that powers of attorney are created while an individual is competent and the principal has the ability to select an agent of their choosing and the scope of their authority. Conservatorships, on the other hand, are created by the Probate Court after a person becomes unable to manage their affairs. The Court has control over who will act as the conservator and the types of decisions that they can make on the ward’s behalf. For obvious reasons, powers of attorney are generally preferable because the principal can control the process. In this article, we will discuss how establishing powers of attorney may prevent the need for a conservatorship in the future. If you need assistance, contact our office today to speak with an estate planning attorney.

Earlier in this series, we discussed the differences between conservatorships and powers of attorney. Powers of attorney allow individuals to retain control over who makes decisions for them and under what circumstances. They are private documents, are inexpensive to create, and do not require oversight by the Probate Court. Conservatorships are established through a public proceeding, require significant Court involvement, and can be expensive to obtain and maintain compliance with ongoing requirements. For these reasons, powers of attorney are generally preferable to conservatorships. It is possible to avoid the need for a conservatorship in many cases by creating powers of attorney as part of one’s advance estate planning. An estate planning attorney can help you consider your choices of agents and back-up agents as well as the types of authority you are comfortable granting to someone else. Financial powers of attorney grant the agent the authority to take certain financially-related actions on your behalf, such as managing investments, writing checks, paying bills, or signing legal documents. Healthcare powers of attorney give your agent the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so. Both documents can be drafted to specifically limit the decision-making authority to the items that you want the agent to handle for you. Putting these documents in place in the event you can no longer manage your affairs may mean that a conservatorship will not be necessary should you become incapacitated.

Under limited circumstances, the Probate Court may approve a conservatorship even if the individual has already appointed a power of attorney. For instance, a principal retains the legal ability to make financial decisions even if they have appointed a financial power of attorney. If the agent believes that the principal should not be handling their monetary affairs because they are incapable of doing so, they may need to petition the Court to appoint a conservator. It may also be necessary to terminate a power of attorney and request a conservatorship if family members of the individual disagree about how the agent is handling the ward’s affairs. The Court will review the situation and determine if a conservatorship is more appropriate and is the best way to defend the best interests of the ward. In such cases, the Court may temporarily suspend or permanently terminate an existing power of attorney. The Court may instead limit a power of attorney so that the agent under the power of attorney handles only specified areas of responsibility, while other duties are assigned to the conservator.

Our attorneys have significant experience with advance estate planning, including using powers of attorney to avoid conservatorships down the road. If you need assistance with a power of attorney or conservatorship issue, contact our office today to speak to a Hartford lawyer. We also service the areas of Wethersfield, New Britain, Rocky Hill, East and West Hartford, Bristol, Glastonbury, and Manchester, as well as the Middlesex County cities of Middletown and Cromwell.