Dallas Estate Litigation Attorneys for Conservatorship Disputes
Some adults in Texas need help making important decisions regarding finances, health care, and other life matters. In cases where an adult is incapacitated or otherwise cannot make prudent decisions on their own, a conservator may be established to make those decisions for them and help the individual with their everyday responsibilities.
Since a conservator is basically granted all decision-making authority over another person, the potential exists that the conservator could abuse their duties or neglect them altogether. If this occurs, you have every right to hold the person accountable and seek the best possible resolution for you or your loved one.
Here at Staubus and Randall, one of our Dallas estate litigation lawyers will sit with you and carefully review your issue, and offer advice regarding your rights and options. Contact us at 214-691-3411 to request a confidential consultation.
What Is a Conservatorship?
Unlike other states, Texas uses the term “conservatorship” to refer to the custody of minor children, particularly in relation to divorce. While the Texas Family Code governs most matters involving the strict definition of conservatorship in the state, some conservatorship issues fall into estate law and are governed by the Texas Estate Code.
In cases where the incapacitated person (or the ward) is an adult, Texas allows conservatorships as either of the following:
- Guardian of the person – Makes decisions regarding a ward’s physical well-being and their primary residence.
- Guardian of the estate – Makes decisions about the ward’s financial affairs.
Conservators may be granted full or limited guardianship, and they may be both the guardian of the person and the estate. The court may also appoint a temporary guardian in emergency situations.
Who May Need a Conservator?
Many adults in Texas suffer from physical disabilities or mental disorders, such as dementia, that make it difficult or impossible to maintain proper hygiene, receive the medical care they need, and make prudent financial decisions.
Just having a disability doesn’t make a person incapable of making important decisions. Also, people may become the ward of a conservator based on their own behavior.
A famous example of this occurred in 2008 with pop star Britney Spears. The previous year, the performer suffered a highly publicized mental breakdown, which led to her behaving strangely and erratically, along with alleged substance abuse. Spears had minor children at the time, and her family was concerned with the children’s well-being as well as Britney’s. They sought a temporary emergency conservatorship in California, and the court appointed Britney’s father as her conservator. He was allowed to manage all aspects of her financial, legal, and medical affairs. The court then made the conservatorship permanent.
Over the course of the conservatorship, many people, including Brittney herself, had concerns with how her father was managing his duties as her conservator, even calling the relationship abusive and claiming the arrangement was adversely affecting her life. She petitioned the court for an end to the conservatorship several times over the years, which set off an extensive legal battle that concluded in 2021 when the court finally terminated the conservatorship.
What makes Britney’s case special is that she was a working adult, and she was producing music albums, appearing on television programs, and performing live concerts during the conservatorship. Although she had a mental breakdown, she had received treatment, but the court awarded a permanent conservatorship anyway.
Responsibilities of a Conservator
A conservator is supposed to always act in the best interests of the ward. In fact, the person must take an oath to fulfill their responsibilities and post a bond to act as security against any financial losses they may cause to the estate. As part of their duties, they must keep accurate records regarding the ward that include the following:
- A detailed account of how the ward’s money is being spent
- Receipts for reimbursement of expenses
- An inventory of the ward’s assets
- Records detailing health care the ward received
- Statements regarding the ward’s needs and care as allowed by the ward’s funds
If the conservator cannot or will not provide evidence that they have properly fulfilled their duties, the ward themselves or a family member may petition to have the conservatorship terminated and request a new conservator.
Who Can Become a Conservator?
Texas courts assign certain individuals priority when determining who can serve as a conservator or guardian of a ward. If the ward is a minor child, the court will appoint conservatorship in the following order:
- The child’s other parent
- The person the last surviving parent of the child designated as their guardian, such as in their will
- The nearest relatives after the parents, such as grandparents or aunts and uncles
- A non-relative the court deems appropriate
If the ward is an incapacitated adult, the court will appoint a conservator based on the following priority:
- The person the ward named as their guardian before their incapacitation
- The ward’s current spouse
- A non-relative the court deems appropriate
There are also instances where a parent of minor children specifies a conservator in their will, and upon the parent’s passing, their intended conservator either cannot or refuses to become the conservator.
Challenging a Conservator
No matter the reason, if you have major concerns with the conservator of a ward, you need to understand your options for recourse. Once a conservator or guardian has been appointed by the court, to have that person removed from their position, the court will have to terminate the order, provided the ward is still alive.
You will need to petition the court to end the conservatorship, and you can show either of the following:
- The ward has regained full capacity to make manage their affairs and care for themselves.
- The ward was a minor and has reached 18 years of age.
For parents of minor children who were deemed to be “incapacitated parents,” they may petition the court to regain conservatorship over their children and obtain parental rights if they can show they are fully rehabilitated from the conditions or circumstances that led to their incapacity.
If you need to take the conservator to court for their inappropriate actions as conservator, talk to your estate litigation lawyer. We’ll listen to the details of your situation and help you determine the best course of action.
Contact Us for Help
The lawyers at Staubus and Randall have extensive experience helping clients throughout Dallas with conservatorship disputes and other estate litigation matters. For help with your issue, you can call us at 214-691-3411 to request a confidential consultation.