How Much Does Guardianship or Conservatorship Cost?
Who Pays for the Expenses of the Ward and Guardian?
A court will appoint a guardian or conservator when an individual has been determined to be mentally incapacitated and unable to care for himself or his own affairs. This is often the result of a concerned friend or family member petitioning the court for the right to act on behalf of the incapacitated individual, called the ward.
Guardianship or conservatorship can be a costly business. Expenses are incurred even before the guardianship or conservatorship is officially established by the court and they can continue on into the life of the legal arrangement.
Guardians and Conservators—Are They the Same?
A conservatorship and a guardianship sound similar, but they're actually two distinctly separate arrangements. A guardian oversees personal issues for the ward. This might involve healthcare issues and even the care, feeding, and supervision of the ward depending on the extent of her incapacity. It might include some minor financial transactions.
A conservator is appointed to handle the ward's finances. The court will typically appoint a conservator if it appears that the guardian will have to handle more than $25,000 or so annually on behalf of the ward, but this can depend on state law.
Some wards might require both a conservator and a guardian, and those appointed might be two separate people. In other cases, the same individual might serve in both roles.
Costs Before a Guardianship or Conservatorship Is Established
Various expenses must be met even before a person is determined to be incapacitated. Court costs for filing the initial petition to determine capacity will vary by state. Just filing the initial petition can range from $45 to $100 or more. And if you enlist the help of an attorney in preparing and filing the petition, her services will cost as well.
These attorney fees are fixed by law in some states, but attorneys are free to charge their standard hourly rates in others.
Fees for physicians, nurses, or social workers must typically be paid as well. These professionals will help to determine if the ward is indeed incapacitated. The court will appoint them to thoroughly examine the ward, and each will charge a fee for his services.
The court will also appoint an attorney to represent the best interests of the alleged incapacitated person, assuming he doesn't already have one. In most states, he must have a preexisting relationship with the lawyer, and this attorney must be paid for her services as well.
When a petition to determine capacity is filed, the alleged incapacitated person's closest living relatives will be required to receive a copy of the petition. This can be accomplished by paying a personal process server to hand deliver a copy to each family member, or, depending upon state law, the family might be able to accept a copy of the petition by certified mail.
Family members might actually agree to get involved and become parties to the petition to determine capacity.
Costs After a Guardianship or Conservatorship Is Established
Many of the ongoing duties and responsibilities of the guardian or conservator will require the payment of certain fees and costs after the guardianship or conservatorship has been established by the court.
In many cases, the guardian or conservator will be required to seek court approval before taking specific actions or making certain decisions on behalf of the ward. This, in turn, will lead to attorney's fees for the preparation and filing of the appropriate court petition, then the costs and fees of any hearings required by the guardianship judge must be added on.
If the judge requires a court hearing for any reason, the ward's attorney must typically attend the hearing and must be paid for doing so.
The conservator will also be required to file an accounting of how the ward's assets have been bought, sold, invested, and spent on behalf of the ward each and every year. He'll either have to prepare this report himself or hire and pay an accountant or attorney to do so.
And some states require that conservators must post bond, a type of an insurance policy to protect the ward's estate in the event of any wrongdoing. This costs money, too.
Who Pays for All This?
Payment of all these expenses can depend on the extent of the ward's estate. If he has sufficient cash and property to require a conservator, many costs will be paid from the estate.
Federal law will step in, at least to cover some expenses, if the ward is relatively destitute. Congress has established a special guardianship fund to pay certain costs in this case, but attorneys serving the guardian or the ward must make a request to the court for payment from this fund.
Initial attorney fees at the beginning of the proceeding must often be paid by the guardian or the conservator, although the court might order that the ward's estate reimburse them.
Some court fees, such as filing fees, might be waived in cases where the ward has limited or no assets or cash. But still other expenses often end up being paid by the guardian without reimbursement. Costs associated with medical or healthcare are the exception. Courts will always make every effort possible to make sure these are paid from the ward's own funds or through state or federal benefits.