By E. Jennifer Reale
When appointed as a conservator for a loved one, most people focus on the care they have to provide. They are busy driving the conserved person to medical appointments, taking care of shopping, cooking, and cleaning.
But when you are a conservator in Connecticut, you also have certain statutory duties that you must be aware of. What many people do not realize is that after you are appointed as a conservator, you are effectively an agent of the Probate Court.
Failure to carry out the duties of a conservator may lead to the court requiring more frequent reporting or may even lead to your removal as a conservator. Whether we represent a conservator or a family member attempting to remove the conservator, we find that in most cases when someone neglects his or her duties, it is not due to willful misconduct, but rather lack of knowledge or understanding.
What are the conservator’s duties?
A good place to start to review your duties as a conservator of the estate is by looking at the Connecticut General Statute § 45a-655 and for duties as a conservator of the person – C.G.S. § 45a-656. For example, a conservator of the person must provide for the care, comfort, and maintenance of the conserved person, and provide at least an annual report to the court regarding the condition of the conserved person. The conservator of the estate’s reporting requirements, on the other hand, start as early as within two months of the appointment, when the conservator of the estate must file an initial inventory with the court. As of July 1, 2018, C.G.S. §45a-655 also incorporates the ‘Connecticut Standards of Practice for Conservators’ which can be found on the Probate Courts’ website.
In addition to incorporating most of the statutory requirements, the new standards also provide ethical guidelines. Importantly, the violation of these standards can be considered by the Probate Court when determining whether or not the conservator breached his or her fiduciary duties.
What happens if the conservator violates his or her duties?
If a conservator fails to meet his or her duties, a court may require the conservator to remedy the neglect, may replace the conservator, and may even order the conservator to return assets to the conserved person’s estate. The court, however, is not the only one that can initiate a complaint or seek the removal of a conservator. Any interested party may petition the court for a removal or request a periodic accounting. Who is an interested party varies by each case, but it always includes the spouse and the children of the conserved person. Depending on the case, it may also include siblings, parents, and even nieces or nephews.
Interested parties may also challenge or object to the inventory and accountings. For example, they may challenge the legitimacy and reasonableness of payments made by the conservator. This, of course, also means that if you are the conservator, you want to maintain detailed records and keep all supporting documentation.
Worried about a payment later being challenged by a family member?
What happens if you intend to incur a large expense for the conserved person’s benefit, but you are afraid that a family member will challenge the expense later on? Although most everyday expenses that the conservator incurs are approved post-payment when the conservator submits his or her periodic accounting, a conservator may also petition the court to approve a larger expenditure prior to payment. If the court approves the payment, the conservator cannot be later held personally liable.
If you have been appointed as a conservator, you are concerned about the work the conservator is doing, or if you have a loved one who may need the support of a conservator, give us a call.