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Basic Roles of Guardians and Conservators, and How a Forensic Genealogist Can Help

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As more and more people are living longer, diseases such as Alzheimer’s have become increasingly common. When an elderly person suffers from Alzheimer’s or a related disease and loses the ability to take care of themselves or manage their affairs, local courts may appoint a guardian or conservator (or in some states, one of each) over the individual. Learn more below about the roles of guardians and conservators, and the ways that a forensic genealogist can provide critical support when an individual’s mental faculties begin to fail.

What do guardians and conservators do?

Courts will appoint guardians or conservators over someone who is unable to care for themselves or make decisions about their finances or legal affairs without help. Generally, appointing someone to make decisions on another adult’s behalf is a last resort for the court, and this option is available only where the individual would be extremely vulnerable without capable outside help. Conservators and guardians are often entrusted with making decisions that have an immense impact on their ward. These appointees hold a strict legal duty to make decisions that further the best interests of the ward and never their own interests. The court may choose a relative of the incapacitated person to serve as a conservator or guardian, or may choose an outside professional to act in this role.

It’s important to note that each state assigns a different meaning to the terms “guardian” and “conservator.” In many states, the term “guardian” is used to describe someone appointed to make decisions about the individual’s personal care, such as where they’ll live and what sort of medical treatment they’ll receive, and the term “conservator” indicates someone who makes decisions only about financial or legal matters. In Florida, however, a conservator is appointed to act on behalf of someone who is missing, either due to being declared missing while in a war zone and presumed dead, or who disappeared due to amnesia or a form of dementia.

How can a forensic genealogist help?

Elderly persons with failing memories can be magnets for scam artists and others with bad intentions. If you’ve been appointed to tend to the day-to-day care or manage the legal or financial affairs of someone with little memory of their personal affairs, it can be impossible to tell whether someone claiming to be a long-lost but dearly-loved relative of your ward is truly someone your ward once knew and loved, or if they’re simply taking advantage of the situation to make a grab for a piece of the person’s estate. A forensic genealogist can conduct an exhaustive search to learn the identity of the ward’s true relatives and heirs to confirm or refute these types of claims. A forensic genealogist can also provide invaluable help in cases where someone who has come under guardianship did not create a will before becoming incapacitated by creating a complete and reliable list of the ward’s heirs. This way, conservators will feel confident in their ability to allocate the ward’s estate to those who are truly entitled to a share when the time comes.

If you’re a trustee, conservator, or guardian in need of the help of a diligent, thorough, and dedicated forensic genealogist, contact the offices of Von Langen LLC for a consultation on your case at 800-525-7722.