Guardianships & Conservatorships
There are times when a guardian or conservator needs to be appointed to look after an incapacitated adult’s personal well-being or property. The Alabama courts have a procedure in place that includes a courtroom hearing to ensure that the appointment of a guardianship or conservatorship is truly necessary, and that a qualified individual is appointed as guardian or conservator. If you are seeking to establish a guardianship or conservatorship over a person or their estate, or if you are challenging the appointment of a guardian or conservator over yourself or your property, having top-notch legal representation by experienced and successful trial lawyers is key. Smith and McGhee can help.
Alabama Guardianship Process and Key Terms to Know
A guardianship in Alabama can be granted over a minor or an incapacitated adult. A guardian is a person appointed to look after an individual’s well-being, while a conservator is someone appointed to look after an individual’s estate. The subject of a guardianship or conservatorship is called a ward. Depending on the needs of the ward, both a guardianship and a conservatorship may be instituted in the same proceeding, and the same person can be appointed to serve as both guardian and conservator.
The process for instituting a guardianship (or conservatorship) begins with filing a petition in probate court. The petition should be filed with supporting documentation that justifies the need for the guardianship. If the proposed ward is an adult, then a physical exam is required to determine the person’s physical or mental incapacity.
A hearing is then held where a judge weighs the evidence and testimony and decides whether a guardianship is needed. The court may also appoint a person to serve as guardian at that time.
Any qualified person may serve as a guardian or conservator, although the law does set out some guidelines for who has priority to serve. For instance, the spouse of a ward has priority to serve as guardian, in preference to the person’s parent or adult child. If a parent has nominated a person in his or her will to serve as a guardian over the parent’s minor child, that nomination will be respected, except that a minor over 14 years old may object to the appointment and nominate someone else. The court will accept that minor’s nominee unless the judge decides the appointment would not be in the minor’s best interest.
A guardian should be someone who is personally acquainted with the ward, as the guardian is responsible for that person’s welfare. Where the ward is a minor, the guardian takes on the role of a parent and provides for the ward’s education, care and support. When the ward is an adult, the guardian is responsible to ensure the ward’s daily needs are met, including needs such as meals, personal hygiene, and medication.
A conservator is responsible to manage the ward’s property and protect it from waste or fraud. The conservator may receive the ward’s income, manage investments, and pay bills and expenses as they become due. Some actions require authorization from the court before they can be taken, such as disposing of real estate or running a business on the ward’s behalf. A conservator is required to complete an inventory of the estate and file it with the court within 90 days of being appointed, and must further file an accounting with the court every three years.
For a minor, a guardianship or conservatorship lasts until the minor becomes an adult, is legally adopted, or gets married. For an incapacitated adult, the appointment lasts for as long as the period of incapacity lasts. A guardianship or conservatorship will also terminate on the death of the guardian, conservator or ward, or if the guardian or conservator resigns or is removed by the court.
Call the Dothan Guardianship & Conservatorship Attorneys at Smith McGhee for a Free Consultation
The attorneys at Smith & McGhee advise and represent clients in the full range of practice concerning guardianship and conservatorship in Alabama. If you are seeking or challenging a guardianship or conservatorship in southeastern Alabama, call Smith McGhee at 334-702-1744 for a free consultation about your concerns with compassionate and dedicated Dothan attorneys.