In Tennessee, the court proceeding that establishes a guardian for a disabled or incapacitated adult is referred to as a “conservatorship.” If a person is no longer able to take care of themselves, enter into contracts, or comprehend and understand documents and transactions, it may be necessary to have someone called a “conservator,” appointed by the court, step in on a person’s behalf. This person is often referred to as a “ward.” Even if a ward has executed a power of attorney prior to the person’s becoming incapacitated, it may still be necessary to appoint a conservator if the power of attorney has not been used in the person’s best interest.
Conservatorships are expensive. The costs can be paid from a ward’s funds; but this generally involves additional costs such as an attorney, a guardian ad litem, court costs, and any medical or mental evaluations necessary. If the ward does not have sufficient funds to pay for the proceedings, family members or friends can make arrangements, or help is sometimes available through legal service programs such as the Legal Aid Society or a bar association pro bono program.
The best way to avoid a conservatorship expense is to plan ahead. Put a power of attorney in place that would allow a trusted friend or family member to make medical and financial decisions if you are no longer able to do so. Powers of attorney are not foolproof and have drawbacks. The most notable drawback is that they are not supervised by any court and are subject to abuse by persons who might take financial advantage of you or act in ways that do not reflect your wishes. There is no legal mechanism to force financial institutions and others to accept powers of attorney, and they cannot be used to accomplish some tasks. However, for many persons who have someone they can trust completely, planning ahead by executing powers of attorney is a wise choice that might help avoid a conservatorship.