Understanding Conservatorship: Protecting Loved Ones From Scammers

“My dad has early stages of dementia. He hasn’t been diagnosed, but we’ve been noticing some major changes over the last year and a half. My mom just discovered that he’s been taking out thousands of dollars from their checking account. When asked about it, he says that he’s just helping a friend out and that it will be repaid with interest. He won’t stop no matter what she does, and we’re terrified he’s being taken advantage of. What can we do?”

Unfortunately, we hear about this situation all too often. There are many unscrupulous individuals that will exploit the generosity and naiveté of vulnerable older adults, especially older adults with cognitive impairments. In the early stages of dementia, a person can carry on with normal functioning of everyday life, including shopping and paying bills. As the disease progresses, the person will lose the ability to make sound judgments. When the person loses the ability to make sound judgments but still has the power to make decisions, they are the most vulnerable to being taken advantage of. At this point, it is necessary for the person to secede the power of making financial decisions to a trusted, non-impaired adult. This transfer of power is ideally done willfully through a Power of Attorney, but it can be forced through a conservatorship. In a conservatorship (just as in a guardianship), the probate court is petitioned to remove the rights away from one adult and to appoint another adult to be that person’s conservator. A conservator handles the financial matters and property of a ward; a guardian handles medical and personal issues for a ward. Both require that the proposed ward be deemed incompetent and have a legal process that must be followed. For the original questioner, the father could be in danger of erroneously giving away his money to a scammer, and the family could intervene by removing his access to the money either through a Power of Attorney or through a Conservatorship. It is often not easy to decide which route to take—both have consequences and limitations. We would highly recommend that this family meet with a Certified Elder Law Attorney that specializes in the Conservatorship process. If you would like to learn more or to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, please call (404) 843-0121 or email info@hurleyeclaw.com