This is the next post in our series of articles discussing conservatorships in Hartford, Connecticut. Our previous article reviewed the duties and obligations of individuals who are appointed to act as a conservator. Because the appointed person holds a position of trust, they must meet their fiduciary duties and act in the ward’s best interest throughout the conservatorship. They must also comply with ongoing reporting requirements to the Probate Court, maintain records of their activities, and follow state-mandated ethical guidelines. The requirements are designed to protect the ward and prevent abuse by unscrupulous individuals. In this article, we will discuss the differences between creating a power of attorney versus establishing a conservatorship. If you are caring for a loved one and have questions about conservatorship, contact our office today to schedule a consultation with an attorney.
We are commonly asked by estate planning clients about the differences between powers of attorney and conservatorships. In both cases, another individual is given the authority to act on behalf of someone else. The primary difference, however, is that creating a power of attorney is a voluntary act by a competent individual who chooses a representative to act on their behalf. The principal determines the scope of authority and the circumstances under which the power of attorney is activated. For instance, in a financial power of attorney, the principal selects a person whom they trust to handle their financial affairs and can either grant them broad powers or very specific limited authority. A conservatorship, on the other hand, is established by a court order after an individual becomes incapacitated and unable to handle their affairs. The Probate Court has discretion to select the conservator rather than being chosen by the ward and to establish their level of authority. The Probate Court controls the process instead of the ward. The power to make decisions by a Conservator may exceed those that would have been given in a power of attorney.
Powers of attorney are private documents that individuals execute either as part of their advance estate planning or when they anticipate needing assistance. A person’s financial power of attorney, for example, may “spring” into effect when an individual is unexpectedly incapacitated, such as emergency hospitalizations or illnesses. In other cases, an individual may have plans to travel or a planned medical procedure and nominate a power of attorney to handle financial affairs in their absence. The principal can revoke their power of attorney and change the agent or their scope of authority at any time. Conservatorships, however, are established through a public legal process and require proof of the ward’s incompetence. The conservator’s actions are monitored by the Court and require the Judge’s permission.
In many cases, it is possible to avoid the need for a conservatorship in the future by creating powers of attorney as part of one’s estate planning process. If you need assistance with a power of attorney or a 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.