Watching the physical and/or mental deterioration of a parent is heart wrenching. Whether because of the natural aging process or dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease, realizing that your parent’s cognitive abilities have declined to the point where they are potentially in danger is also cause for real concern. At some point, you may need to consider petitioning for conservatorship over your parent. With that in mind, a Murfreesboro estate planning attorney at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby has put together a guide to adult conservatorship in Tennessee.
Why Might Conservatorship Be Necessary?
Although Americans enjoy an average life expectancy today that is almost double what it was a century age, living longer does not mean we can avoid the physical and mental decline that accompanies the aging process. In addition, one in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. If you have a parent who is showing clear signs of cognitive impairment, your parent is at risk of being physically injured, psychologically abused, or financially victimized because of that impairment. While no one wants to take away a parent’s autonomy, doing so may be the only way to protect them.
What Is Conservatorship in Tennessee?
In the State of Tennessee, a conservatorship (often referred to as “guardianship” in other states) is a legal relationship created by a court order taking decision-making authority way from a person with a disability and vesting that authority in another person. To appoint a conservator, a court was be convinced that the ward (disabled person) is in need of partial or full supervision, assistance, and protection because of the physical and/or mental incapacity.
The court can order a full or limited conservatorship. If the court orders a full conservatorship, the person appointed to the be conservator will have virtually unlimited authority to make financial, medical, and practical decisions for the ward. If a limited conservatorship is awarded, the court will specify what authority is granted to the conservator and may specifically note limitations to the authority granted.
Are There Options Other Than Conservatorship?
Conservatorship is considered the most restrictive option possible when there are concerns about the health, safety, and well-being of an elderly individual. A conservator with full authority can do things such as sell property owned by the ward, move the ward to a new facility, or even prevent the ward from being treated by a specific physician. The law, however, requires a judge to find the least restrictive option available when considering how best to protect a disabled or incapacitated adult. As such, the court will likely consider less restrictive alternatives such as home health care, financial power of attorney, assisted living, and voluntary arrangements that provide the necessary oversight. Only when a judge is convinced that these less restrictive options will not suffice to protect a prospective ward will a conservatorship be awarded.
How Do I Become My Parent’s Conservator in Tennessee?
To become your parent’s conservator, you must petition the appropriate court. In most counties, Chancery Court has jurisdiction over probate and related matters, such as adult conservatorship. The petition must allege the basis on which you believe a conservator is needed. Tennessee law also requires you to include a Physician’s Statement from your parent’s physician supporting the need for a conservator. The proposed ward (your parent) along with close family members are entitled to receive a copy of the petition and have the right to file an official objection with the court. The court will set the matter for a hearing at which time you have the burden of proving that a conservator is necessary and that you should be appointed to be that conservator. If the court agrees with you, you will be given documents showing that you are now your parent’s conservator and indicating any limitations to your authority as conservator.
Contact a Murfreesboro Estate Planning Attorney
If you have additional questions or concerns about how to become your parent’s conservator in Tennessee, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro estate planning attorney at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.