More and more, The McGarity Group, LLC sees cases that require a conservator for a child who receives money or property. A conservator may need to be appointed when a child receives money or property by way of inheritance, life insurance, gift or a legal settlement or award. Some legal actions that require the appointment of a conservator for a minor include personal injury cases, wrongful death cases and petitions for year’s support. Georgia courts require a conservator to be appointed when an asset a child receives that’s not in a trust or under testamentary conservator management is valued at over $15,000. In the process, it helps to understand what it takes to become a conservator and the duties involved.
What is a Conservatorship?
A conservator has a different legal role than a guardian. In Georgia, a guardian is responsible for the health, safety, and care of a minor child or adult ward. The age of majority in Georgia, when a person is considered an “adult”, is 18 years old. A conservator is responsible for managing the finances and property of a minor child or adult ward. For purposes of this article, we will focus on the conservators of minors.
A conservator is often the child’s parent or another close relative, such as a grandparent or an adult sibling. Even when a parent is named the conservator, they’re accountable to the probate court and can be replaced if they don’t follow legal guidelines.
A conservator’s duties may include:
- Making disbursements from the conservatorship account, which have been approved by the Court, for the support, care, education, health and/or welfare of the minor.
- Making investments or appointing an attorney-in-fact to do so
- Entering into contracts, as approved by the Court, for labor or services benefiting the minor
- Receiving, collecting and holding the minor’s property
- Paying debts and bills on behalf of the minor
- Agreeing to a settlement award amount in a lawsuit
The probate court can also grant the conservator authority over the sale, rental, lease, or disposal of property, or the operation of a farm or business the minor owns or has an interest in.
Every conservator must act in the child’s best interest, using reasonable care, as if they’re handling their own affairs. The conservator shouldn’t use the minor’s funds or property for personal profit or convert them for their personal use. They should notify the probate court of any potential conflicts of interest.
How to Qualify to Become a Child’s Conservator
To be appointed a conservator, you may file a petition with the probate court of the county where the minor lives and pay the required filing fees. To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or have proof of permanent status in the U.S. You may also need to consent to background and credit checks.
After you file a petition, the court will schedule a hearing and notify you of the need to post a bond. All conservators must post a bond before their appointments to ensure the protection of the child’s funds. The court will set the bond amount based on the value of the liquid assets the minor will receive.
If you want to become a conservator for more than one child, you must pay for and file separate petitions and post a different bond for each child.
The application process can be complicated and confusing. Because of the requirements and attention to detail involved, it’s crucial to work with a skilled estate planning attorney.
When you file a petition for conservatorship, the clerk decides whether anyone must be notified through a citation or a notice in a newspaper. In some cases, the court will appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child. At a hearing, the petitioner(s) will appear in court and the judge will appoint the conservator. The conservator will likely be required to file annual asset management plans, an inventory, and annual returns. The judge will review these filings to ensure that the conservator protects the child’s interests and property.
The conservatorship ends when the child reaches the age of 18. To close the conservatorship and be relieved from liability under the bond, the conservator must file a petition for discharge and the former minor must consent.
If your child is entitled to money or property from a settlement or an inheritance, the estate planning lawyers at McGarity & Efstration can help you with the conservatorship process. Contact us today.