As the aging population trend continues in the United States, more and more families are encountering the painful dilemma of loved ones who appear to be losing their ability to care for themselves as well as they did in their earlier years. While some people demonstrate diminished capacity across the board in managing their property, their financial affairs, their daily needs of housing and shelter and the ability to make sound judgments as they manage their health affairs, there are adults for whom their disability is more limited and they need help only to a limited extent. Any time the court intervenes with the appointment of a guardian or conservator, this results in the removal of someone's individual rights. The courts take these matters very seriously and focus on finding the least restrictive solution that will work in any particular circumstance.
A Conservator of Estate is appointed when the needs of the individual for whom there is concern are limited to financial well being. The appointment of a conservator of estate is designed to provide financial assistance to the Respondent (the person for whom a conservator is appointed) when the Respondent remains capable of otherwise providing a level of well-being that aligns with generally accepted social norms. A conservator of estate is an excellent option that provides protection in financial matters while allowing individuals to maintain autonomy in other areas of their lives. This provides a degree of relief and offers a level of protection from exploitation by others.
Kentucky has a clearly defined system for determining disability in order to appoint a Conservator of estate. Individuals are protected as the case moves through the court as all pertinent matters are confidential. An individual with concern about a loved one's ability to navigate customary daily activities (the petitioner), must file a petition through the District Court of the area where the person of concern (the respondent) lives. The District Court Clerk is an excellent resource for guidance and updates during the process. Once a petition is filed (by the Petitioner), the person who may need some level of court-appointed assistance (the Respondent) will be scheduled for an examination by an Interdisciplinary Team (IDT). The team members, a medical doctor, a psychologist and a social worker, will each write a report and must agree on the presence of legal disability or the disability trial does not go forward.
Kentucky is unique in its requirement that a disability trial must be held. The respondent requires an attorney to represent him/her during the disability trial. If the respondent cannot afford an attorney, the District Court will appoint an attorney. The petitioner is not required to have an attorney but may chose to hire legal counsel. During the trial, evidence is presented by the County Attorney. A 6-member jury makes the decision on the presence and extent of disability and indicates the areas in which an individual needs protection. Based upon the recommendation by the jury, the judge will appoint a fiduciary and clarify the limits on the power of the fiduciary. For some respondents, the appointment of a conservator of estate is exactly the level of assistance needed to continue at a level of independent living.
A conservator of estate has significant responsibilities and reporting requirements. Assistance with understanding these requirements is available through the Kentucky Guardianship Association (KGA). Whether you are seeking a clear understanding of the process of appointing a legal conservator of estate, information about how a disability trial is conducted, you are a participant on an interdisciplinary team or a lawyer representing a Respondent or a Petitioner, visit our website at www.kyguardianship.org for more information. Be sure to review our video on the Resources page. We recently added a downloadable resource, Kentucky Guardianship Manual, that details the guardianship/conservatorship process in Kentucky from start to finish. The KGA is a great ongoing resource for families, social workers and individuals interested in becoming guardians or conservators. Resources include training for social workers, attorneys and persons who have been appointed by the court to serve as a guardian or conservator. Bring your questions to the KGA and let us help you navigate this process.