An adult may need legal protections in a variety of situations. An individual who has reached 18 years of age may have a lifelong disability and since their parents no longer have responsibility or power to care for a disabled person who has become an independent adult by law, protections must be put in place. An older person may be showing signs of dementia. An adult of any age may become vulnerable because of an accidental injury or a serious illness.
Each of these scenarios has similarities as well as unique circumstances. Colorado guardianship and conservatorship laws may provide good options for personal and financial protections. Other legal vehicles present alternative safety nets such as medical powers of attorney, financial powers of attorney, trusts, representative payees for Social Security benefits, protective orders and others. Availability may depend on whether the person has the mental capacity to appoint someone to a position of responsibility or to create a legal vehicle. Otherwise, a family member or other interested person can take legal action to protect the vulnerable person’s interests.
A person seeking appointment as a guardian or conservator for a loved one begins with filing a petition in state court for a protective proceeding. The same person may not be both guardian and conservator for the same vulnerable person. The incapacitated person is called the respondent (to the petition) and has the right to their own attorney.
Should there be no appropriate person among family or friends, if the person has sufficient financial means, a private, professional guardian or conservator may be retained for either role. At the time of this writing, there is a public guardianship program in Colorado for people who need protection, but do not have anyone to act and cannot afford a private guardian.
Colorado law allows an emergency guardianship for up to 60 days, a temporary guardianship for up to six months or a permanent guardianship (unless properly removed). The court may appoint a person to be a limited guardian without full powers if that level of protection is appropriate for the ward.
A Colorado guardian has the power and responsibility to oversee the ward’s medical, physical and emotional health and to see that daily personal, residential, educational and vocational needs are met. The guardian should try to get input from the ward if possible in making decisions and should maintain regular contact with the ward, their caregivers and service providers.
A conservator’s responsibility is to preserve, invest or use the protected person’s assets and money as well as business interests. It may be appropriate to provide for the person’s needs, pay bills, make investments or otherwise act in their best financial interests.
The court may appoint a limited conservator if management of only certain assets or aspects of financial or business interests is required. For example, the conservator may only have the power to run the protected person’s business or to use their checking account to pay household and medical bills. Another option is a special conservator appointed only to accomplish a single transaction like a transfer of real estate.
All guardians and conservators must complete and file reports with the court initially and annually. They are fiduciaries responsible for acting with loyalty and in protected persons’ best interests and to use reasonable, prudent judgment in carrying out their responsibilities. A lawyer can provide guidance and information needed for the guardian or conservator to perform their duties according to the law.