Conservatorships and Guardianships

What Happens When They Can’t Make Decisions Anymore?

How do you help your parent with Alzheimer’s or dementia when he or she refuses to acknowledge needing help, even when the situation is becoming dangerous?

The safest way to protect a vulnerable adult is through guardianship and/or conservatorship proceedings. Both are handled in probate court and involve someone asking for a decision maker to be appointed because the person in need of protection is unable to make or communicate informed decisions. When an issue takes you to probate court it is imperative to have an experienced probate attorney from BRMM to handle your case.

Court-appointed guardians make medical, placement and other decisions, while Conservators handle finances. One person often serves both roles, but courts will also appoint two different people. To make the decision to grant guardianship over a patient, judges take into consideration:

  • Medical records
  • Financial records
  • Testimony from family
  • Testimony from caregivers
  • Reports from court-appointed physicians

Judges take very seriously the process of removing someone’s legal right to make their own decisions. Making this determination – that the person in question is unable to make their own decisions – is step one; choosing who will be appointed to take over their decision-making is step two.

Who will be Guardian and Conservator?

The opinion of the person to be protected, or ward, is important and weighed heavily by the judge. This is why it is necessary to prepare Durable Power of Attorney and Patient Advocate documents BEFORE the onset of any conditions. When a person is compromised, their wishes can be made clear in court through these legal documents, which carry great weight with judges.

Michigan law requires probate judges to honor the ward’s appointee preferences in most cases, or the judge must follow a list of people (in order) as required by statute:

  • Spouse
  • Adult Child
  • Other relatives
  • Other appointees (not related)

A person can only be skipped for someone lower on the list if he or she is unwilling or unsuitable to serve. Nothing is set in stone, however, and probate judges do have discretion to make the decision, ultimately based on the guiding principle of what is in the best interests of the protected person.

Family disagreements about who is most suitable do arise. Siblings may disagree, second marriages can make things difficult, and even the ward himself may disagree with his children. Since the judges do carry the final decision, family members vying for appointment must do everything they can to convince the judge they are most suitable and that their opponent is not suitable. Sometimes it can get ugly.

Our experienced probate attorneys have fought this fight many times and know how to stand up for you and your loved ones in court. We will fight for your rights in this often-emotional legal process.

What is next as Guardian and Conservator?

The person appointed to serve on behalf of the ward has strict duties to act in their best interest. They are required to report to Probate Court and each year must file a detailed report so that court can evaluate the ward’s care. At BRMM, our committed attorneys will continue working with your family throughout the ward’s life.

While it is never the choice to initiate guardianship or conservatorship unless there is no other option, sometimes diplomacy fails. If a loved one’s Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other condition cause them to be too stubborn to admit needing decision-making help, this path is the safest choice.

Let us help with your conservatorship or guardianship needs. With an experienced BRMM attorney guiding your family, protective proceedings through probate court can help you sleep at night, knowing your loved one is safe.