Elder Law Estate Planning Legal Topics

First Steps for a Conservator

elderly_106586892Your client has just been named conservator over someone suffering from dementia as well as over his or her estate. There will be much to do, but some first steps should be taken right away.

Protect the residence. If the conservatee has been living alone and is moved from the residence by the conservator, do the following:

  • Change the locks;
  • Make arrangements to maintain the yard and care for any pets;
  • Notify utility and other service companies to make appropriate changes in their services;
  • Cancel newspapers or other subscriptions; and
  • Notify the post office of a change of address.

Protect personal property at the residence. Search the conservatee’s residence for cash, jewelry, silver, securities, and other valuables, and arrange for their safe storage. If the conservatee hasn’t moved, or if others are still living at the conservatee’s residence, arrange to inspect the residence to determine which property belongs to the conservatee, and then list it for the inventory.

If the conservatee wants to wear valuable jewelry, make arrangements to permit this as long as it’s prudent and reasonable.

Protecting paintings, silver, and art presents a problem if the conservatee’s spouse retains capacity and is living at home. That spouse or domestic partner has full management and control of the community property unless he or she consents to its inclusion in the conservatorship estate, or a court order gives the conservator control over a portion of the community property. See Prob C §3051.

Save the mail. Mail may include items that interest only the conservatee, but it may also contain correspondence useful to the conservator. When the conservatee has some capacity, use discretion in reading his or her mail; the conservatee has the right to receive his or her personal mail. Prob C §2351(a).

Take control over the cars. With the advice of the conservatee’s physician, decide whether the conservatee should drive (but keep in mind that it’s extremely unusual for a conservatee to have the capacity to continue driving). Because you may face personal liability for any injury the conservatee causes by operating a vehicle, be sure that any car the conservatee will be driving is registered and insured; take possession of the car until this is all set. You should also hold the ownership certificate so that the conservatee can’t dispose of the car; even better, re-register the car in your name so the conservatee can’t sell it.

If the conservatee can’t drive his or her car, a family member or friend may want to do so. But unless the car’s operation benefits the conservatee or the conservatee’s estate, you don’t have authority to permit this. And if someone does drive the car for the conservatee’s benefit, make sure it’s properly covered under the insurance policy. Depending on the conservatee’s age, physical condition, and likelihood of recovery, you may want to store or sell the car.

For guidance on the first steps of administration, including marshaling assets and taking inventory, turn to CEB’s California Conservatorship Practice, chap 10. And have experienced practitioners guide you through the appropriate analyses and necessary steps in CEB’s program Conservatorships: The Basics, available On Demand.

Other CEBblog™ blog posts you may find interesting:

© The Regents of the University of California, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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