Most of us have had contact with someone suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, drug abuse, or another incapacitating disability. Such conditions are heartbreaking, and so many individuals who want to help are often at a loss of how exactly to help, especially in urgent situations.
Take for instance a client who came into my office expressing anxiety over the state her son's mental health. Her son was 25 and was in graduate school. He was a talented student in college and high school. He volunteered in his time at local homeless shelters and soup kitchens that helped the needy. He is undoubtedly, a good, kind-hearted person. However, he had recently been acting erratically, becoming more aggressive and delusional. He had never demonstrated this type of behavior before. About a week before our meeting, his mother reported that he had disappeared. He was found in another state, having been arrested by police for starting a fight. His mother took him to a psychiatrist and the report was not good. The doctor diagnosed him with schizophrenia.
At 25 years old, my client's son did not have a power of attorney in place or any other provisions regarding advance healthcare directives. She needed something immediately in order to be able to make vital medical and financial decisions for him. We sat down and began discussing her options. She could ask him to execute a power of attorney. However, her son's mental state had declined to such an extent that he could not understand what he would be signing. I explained to the mother that the only solution to help him would be to file for an emergency conservatorship.
What is an Emergency Conservatorship in Tennessee?
An emergency conservatorship is a type of conservatorship that is temporary in nature. It is uniquely designed to help protect disabled persons from potential harm to themselves and to others. An emergency conservatorship allows you to gain temporary control of the persons finances and healthcare decisions.
A conservatorship is a court established relationship in which certain legal rights are taken away from someone and placed in a person or entity appointed by the Court. To establish a permanent conservatorship, a doctor must give an opinion that the individual needs someone to manage his or her affairs and make medical decisions. In an emergency conservatorship, this doctor's report is not immediately required. The Court will base its initial order granting or denying the Petition to establish an emergency conservatorship on the content of the Petition.
The Process of Emergency Conservatorship in Clarksville, Tennessee
If you believe a loved one is suffering from a disabling condition that prevents them from safely managing their affairs, here are the steps for petitioning the court for an emergency conservatorship:
- Step 1: Speak with a conservatorship attorney. That attorney should help prepare a verified petition to establish an emergency conservatorship. by gathering supporting documentation of the person's disability.
- Step 2: Go to the court of record in the county where the disabled person resides to file a petition. To request emergency conservatorship in Clarksville, Montgomery County, Tennessee this Petition will be filed in the Chancery Court.
- Step 3: The court will consider the respondent's condition outlined in the petition. If the court determines that the evidence clearly shows that the person is disabled and he or needs assistance, the court will appoint the emergency conservator. The court can appoint a conservator the same day the petition is filed in order to protect a respondent from potential harm.
- Step 4: If the court approves, it will provide letters of conservatorship showing that the conservator now has temporary legal authority to act on behalf of the disabled person.
- Step 5: The court then will hold a hearing within 5 days of when the petition is filed to determine whether the conservatorship should continue for a longer period of time.
Remember that emergency conservatorship is a temporary in nature. The court-appointed emergency conservator only has authority over the respondent's healthcare and finances for a maximum of sixty (60) days. If a permanent conservatorship is needed, then a petition requesting permanency must be filed.
Frequently Asked Questions About Emergency Conservatorships
Who can be a conservator?
- A conservator can be anyone who expresses concerns for someone else's welfare. The person filing for conservatorship does not necessarily have to be family or a close friend.
Why does the conservator have a right to file a petition?
- The person filing a petition for conservatorship has a right to seek legal authority to manage someone else's healthcare and financial decisions when the purpose is to protect that person from personal harm.
How does the conservator obtain legal responsibility?
- When a concerned person petitions for emergency conservatorship, the court determines whether the situation is an “emergency”. Then the court appoints the individual as a conservator and gives him or her immediate legal authority to manage another person's finances and healthcare.
Who qualifies as someone who needs an emergency conservatorship?
- A respondent can be anyone whose daily life is affected by their health. The respondent could be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease, a mental illness that impairs judgement (such as schizophrenia), or any mental deterioration affecting well-being. Tennessee law prioritizes immediate family when appointing a conservator, but anyone who is concerned for the welfare of another person is eligible for conservatorship
Why would a respondent require legal help?
- When a person is suffering from a disability, they made need help managing bank accounts, realty, personal financial decisions, or healthcare decisions
Conclusion: Emergency Conservatorship
To summarize, if you feel that someone's wellbeing is threatened by a disabling condition, file a petition with the court of record for the court to appoint an emergency conservator. An emergency conservator can make financial and healthcare decisions on the respondent's behalf to protect them from harm.
Prepare for your own future.
If you do not already have a financial and a healthcare power of attorney, you need them. A power of attorney allows you hand-select who you want to control your healthcare and financial decisions in the event that you become incapable of taking care of yourself. Prepare for your health and financial future so that your friends and family do not have to petition the court for authority to assist you if you need help.
If you are concerned that someone you know needs help with healthcare and financial decisions, or if you want more information about the process, contact an estate planning attorney. We are available to discuss your concerns and walk you through the steps of filing a petition for emergency conservatorship. Contact Crow Estate Planning & Probate online or call us at 931-218-7800 to set up an appointment today.