My mother can no longer handle her finances what are my options?
It’s natural for parents to care for their children. It’s difficult, however, when the roles are reversed and grown children find their parents now need their help making financial, medical, or personal decisions. In fact, it’s not uncommon for some parents to refuse their children’s help or claim they do not need help.
But how do you know when someone is considered legally incapacitated and you, as the child, have the right to establish yourself as the financial guardian or conservator of that person’s assets and finances? Recently on our legal forum a person asked, “If my mother is no longer able to manage her own finances how do I get control of them so I can keep her from making too many financial mistakes?”
What is a conservatorship?
If your mother is no longer able to make her own financial decisions you may have the legal right as her daughter to become her legal conservator of estate and help her manage her financial affairs.
This appointment is not automatic and will not be granted unless you file the appropriate forms in probate court and prove that your mother is physically or mentally incapacitated and needs your help (this will not be necessary if your mother planned ahead and signed durable power of attorney for healthcare and financial assistance).
Note: Conservator of estate will differ from conservator of person. The former will only allow the authority to make decisions about your mother’s financial considerations. Conservator of the person allows you to make decisions about her medical care and living arrangements.
Requirements of a Conservatorship
If the court does decide that you are the best person to manage your mother’s estate you will have several ongoing responsibilities. Not only will be you be required to manage your mother’s financial estate, you will also have to keep detailed records of the decisions you make and periodically file paperwork with the court.
You may also have to answer to the court if you are considering making a major decision such as selling something of great value. In some cases, the court may also require you to post a bond, which is insurance against mishandling of the estate.
Does your mother have any say over your appointment as conservator?
You mother may have very little control over who the court decides to appoint as her conservator, especially if she is mentally incapacitated. As mentioned above, however, she could have appointed someone as her conservator prior to her incapacitation by establishing a power of attorney.
Other interested parties (generally the spouse or another child), however, may object to your appointment as the conservator by filing the appropriate papers with the court and attending a court hearing.
The judge will make the appointment after hearing evidence for the case. The judge generally gives preference to persons identified as preferential under state law, but judges do have the right to make an independent appointment if they desire.
Will you be compensated for your help?
You may legally be allowed to request compensation for the financial services you provide to your mother. Payments for your help will be deducted from your mother’s estate, although they must be considered reasonable by the court. Before taking any compensation, however, you need to make the request to the court.
Will I have to support my mother?
As the conservator you are not required to financially support your mother, although if she has no other financial resources you may want to help her. You will, however, need to evaluate whether she would qualify for any other benefits.
For instance, if she is less than retirement age but lacks the ability to work due to her disability, she may qualify for Socials Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Other benefits she may qualify to receive could may include Social Security, medical insurance, retirement benefits, public assistance, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
When do my responsibilities as my mother’s conservator end?
The conservatorship can be terminated for a variety of reasons. For instance, if you determine you are no longer capable of performing the duties, if your mother dies, if your mother’s condition improves and she no longer needs your help, or her assets are depleted.
Steps to initiate a conservatorship
As mentioned above, you will first have to initiate the request for conservatorship with a family law attorney or directly with the probate court. Next, provide evidence to the court that your mother is no longer capable of managing her own money. Next, allow the court to complete interviews, background checks, and review the provided documentation.
Finally, schedule and attend a hearing. If the court finds your mother is incapable of supporting herself they will make a conservatorship appointment.
Who can I talk to about establishing a conservatorship?
You do not need a lawyer to establish a conservatorship, but many experts suggest you may want to at least consult with a family law attorney to ensure you understand the legal requirements and what you will need to do to help your mother.
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