I’ve officially been a conservator and guardian for my elderly aunt for three months now. But the process started a few months before that. And something new comes up every few days, sometimes for 3-4 of days in a row.
The legal and accounting aspects of these roles are the easy part. Managing the stress and emotions that arise – and the 50-mile distance between us – are the challenges.
Realizing Help is Needed
At some point in time, you may find yourself faced with needing to provide assistance to a parent, partner, adult child, other family member or friend.
You might see signs for years that a loved one is gradually losing their memory. Or you might learn of a sudden accident or illness that requires them to need help.
Perhaps they come to you themselves or maybe someone else requests your assistance.
Cameron Huddleston, the author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk, realized her time had come when her mom was struggling with her memory as they chatted during one of Cameron’s visits.
Mine started with a phone call.
The whole story is complicated and full of extended family drama, and frankly because I don’t know all the truths I can’t explain it all.
What I do know is that within a period just shy of two months my 78-year-old Aunt lost her husband of 58 years when he died from congestive heart failure. And then her great-nephew who lived with them for nine years left her home alone one night.
This caused a chain of life-changing events for my Aunt of course. And those of us left to pick up the pieces.
Called to Action
The phone call mentioned above was to Adult Protective Services (APS), made by a member of my Uncle’s family when they learned my Aunt (my mom’s sister) was “abandoned” by her great-nephew.
APS then contacted her living siblings, my mom in Florida and a brother living in California to ask for help in getting my Aunt cared for. They were adamant that she needed a guardian and conservator due to her dementia and the suspected financial abuse from her great-nephew.
Within two days my mom flew in from Florida. In the meantime, my Aunt stayed with her sister-in-law.
After mom’s arrival, we headed to my Aunt’s home to assess her situation and determine what we could do about it.
As I mentioned a bit in this post, we found a mess. Literally and figuratively.
We cleaned up the literal mess. Moved my Aunt into an assisted-living-facility. And I continuously work on the rest.
Becoming a Guardian and Conservator
While you don’t need to hire an attorney to request a guardianship or conservatorship I highly recommend it. At a time when you’re managing the healthcare, living arrangements, and financial matters for someone, not to mention the emotions around it all, having a legal professional on your side is extremely valuable.
Once the petitions for conservatorship and guardianship were filed, the court scheduled a hearing, and appointed an ‘ad litem’ to interview my Aunt. Their job was to protect my Aunt’s interests and recommend (or not) my appointment as guardian and conservator to the court.
At the hearing, the judge asked my Aunt a few questions, heard the recommendation from the ad litem, and approved my petition.
After the court session, I attended a required training to review the legal requirements, such as filing an initial financial inventory, and annual updates thereafter.
From there, I needed to open a new bank account specifically for my role as conservator. This was not an easy task. The account needs to be set up in a specific way and the bank had to have it approved by their legal department before opening.
The account is also restricted. I cannot obtain a debit card for it, nor pay bills online from it. This means I have to write checks when I shop for her personal supplies, something I haven’t done in years!
There have been numerous other tasks I’ve completed – such as filing the court documents with the Social Security Administration, a number of financial institutions and several medical care providers – so I can act on my Aunt’s behalf.
Being a Guardian
“A legally appointed guardian makes decisions about the welfare of a protected person. This typically includes living arrangements, healthcare needs, medical decisions, and other safety and long-term care decisions.”
My heart goes out to anyone in this role. It is damn hard. And I don’t even know the half of it because I’m not a physical caregiver doing the actual care. But I have experienced the emotional side and it’s tough.
Dementia can be such a torturous disease. It tortures my Aunt because she knows somethings “off” with her, but she can’t comprehend precisely what’s going. And that frustrates her and makes her angry.
She also, of course, forgets many things. Adding to her frustration. Plus she’s still dealing with the loss of her husband, great-nephew, and home.
So usually when she calls me to ask questions or complain I do my best to just listen and answer as honestly as possible without causing more frustration. But sometimes she turns hostile and it’s hard not to fight back. I’m learning though, that I can’t reason or argue with her. (My mom goes through the same thing with her.)
My daughter who is a hospice nurse recently gave me some good advice. So the next time my Aunt’s being mean I’ll tell her I’m sorry she’s not happy but that I don’t deserve to be talked to that way and that I’m hanging up and will talk to her when she’s feeling better. I’ll keep you posted on if it works.
Aside from fielding phone calls from my Aunt, being her guardian so far has also meant taking her to doctor’s appointments, getting her new hearing aids, buying all her personal supplies, and conversing with medical personal and the staff at the assisted-living facility. I expect more of the same.
Acting as Conservator
“Conservators are tasked with several duties and much responsibility. This typically includes paying bills, selling or buying vehicles and real estate, managing investment accounts, preparing and filing income tax returns, and making other financial decisions on the protected person’s behalf.”
As briefly mentioned above, there were many tasks involved in initially setting up my conservator role. After the bank account was set-up and financial institutions and vendors notified I moved on to paying bills and settling accounts.
Recently I went back to court for permission to sell my Aunt’s house. All went well and before the day was over I’d signed the closing documents by and was celebrating by 6:00 pm.
After two previous purchase offers on her home fell through, signing on the dotted line was a huge relief. Without the home sale, my Aunt would run out of money in 6-8 months. With it, she should have enough for three years depending on her care needs. I still need to understand what happens when her money is running out/gone though.
I have a couple more bigger tasks ahead of me, resolving a vehicle lease and my Aunt and Uncle’s taxes for 2018 and 2019, but then things should be more routine.
I’ll let you know how it goes!
Feel free to ask any questions or let us know about your own experience as a conservator or guardian below. Good advice is always welcome!