If you have a loved one in Arizona who cannot manage their finances due to age, illness, or disability, you may consider setting up a conservatorship.  

A conservatorship is a legal process where a court appoints a trusted individual, called a conservator, to manage the financial affairs of a vulnerable person, known as the ward. Guardianship involves management of the ward’s personal interests, such as living arrangements, medical care, and basic needs.

The conservatorship process involves several steps, from filing the initial petition to the appointment of a conservator. Our compassionate estate attorneys will help you navigate the process with this guide that highlights the key stages and requirements.

Assessing the Need for Conservatorship 

Before diving into the legal steps, it’s crucial to understand when a conservatorship is truly necessary. A conservatorship is a significant decision that should only be pursued if your loved one can no longer make sound financial choices due to:

  • Mental incapacity: This could be caused by dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, severe mental illness, intellectual disability, developmental disability, or coma.
  • Physical incapacity: A physical injury or progressive illness might render someone unable to handle financial matters.
  • Prodigality or drug addiction: In rare cases, a conservatorship can be sought for someone who recklessly squanders their finances or causes harm to themselves.

The laws around conservatorships vary from state to state, and in Arizona, only the court can determine that a vulnerable individual needs a conservator or guardian — but any interested party may petition the court for a finding of incapacity.

There are two main types of conservatorship in this state. A limited conservatorship is intended for persons with certain disabilities or conditions who require less supervision and maintain a level of independence. A general conservatorship grants the conservator full oversight for proper monetary management

Initiating the Process: The Petition

The first step towards establishing a conservatorship is filing a Petition for Appointment of Conservator with the Superior Court in the Arizona county where the alleged incapacitated person resides. This petition typically includes:

Per Rule 27.1(A) of the Arizona Rules of Probate Procedure, “any person who is neither a licensed fiduciary under A.R.S. § 14-5651 nor a financial institution shall complete a training program approved by the supreme court before letters to serve as a guardian, conservator, or personal representative are issued.” 

There is no cost for this training and more information can be obtained on the Probate Resource webpage

Gathering Necessary Documents

Along with the petition, interested parties will need to submit supporting documents like:

  • Physician reports: A doctor’s evaluation confirming your loved one’s inability to manage finances, with a specific physical, psychiatric, or psychological diagnosis.
  • Financial statements: Bank statements, investment records, and other documents to demonstrate the extent of the ward’s financial assets.
  • Proposed conservator’s qualifications: Documentation that showcases suitability for the role, such as a criminal background check and the completed probate training.

Notice and Hearing

Once the petition is filed, the attorney will notify interested parties, including the proposed ward, their spouse (if any), and close relatives. This notification allows them to object to the conservatorship or nominate an alternative.

A court hearing will be scheduled to determine if a conservatorship is necessary and, if so, who will be appointed to perform this fiduciary duty

The ward will have the opportunity to express their wishes regarding the conservatorship if they are able, and the judge will decide whether to establish a conservatorship and, if so, who will serve as the conservator.

Per the Pima County Superior Court and Arizona Revised Statutes § 14-5310(C), A.R.S. § 5401.01(C), §14-5303(C), and §14-5407(B), “unless the proposed ward is represented by independent counsel, the court shall appoint an attorney to represent the proposed ward in the proceeding. The Probate Clerk’s office will provide the Petitioner with the names of three (3) attorneys on the Court Appointed Attorney list.”

The Role and Responsibilities of a Conservator

If appointed, the conservator assumes a significant responsibility. Arizona laws require guardians to act with the utmost good faith, honesty, and in the best interests of their ward.

Their duties typically include managing finances such as paying bills, collecting income, investing assets, and safeguarding the ward’s financial well-being. The conservator must file regular reports with the court detailing their management of the protected party’s finances.

Every decision made by the conservator must prioritize the ward’s best interests. The court may require the conservator to obtain a surety bond, which is financial insurance that guarantees the conservator will fulfill their duties responsibly.

The court will also maintain ongoing oversight of the conservatorship. This might involve periodic reviews of the conservator’s reports and even surprise audits of the ward’s finances.

Making the Right Choices for Your Family

While a conservatorship offers a legal framework for financial protection, there are other options.  In some cases, less restrictive alternatives might be more suitable. Setting up a durable power of attorney or adding yourself as a joint owner on bank accounts can provide some level of control over shared finances.

The conservatorship process can be complex and involve sensitive family dynamics, but it’s designed to protect the rights and well-being of vulnerable individuals who are unable to manage their own affairs. 

Our compassionate and knowledgeable guardianship and conservatorship advocates can guide you through the legal steps, represent you in court, and ensure the conservatorship is established in a way that protects your loved one’s best interests — schedule a consultation today.