A person who is 18 years of age is considered an adult under Missouri law and is, therefore, in charge of his/her own affairs, unless a judge has appointed a guardian or conservator for them. In order for a parent to continue to be the guardian of an individual when he/she reaches the age of 18, the parent must have made a successful application to the Probate Court for their appointment as guardian and/or conservator for the individual.

Guardianship for a minor, a person under the age of 18, is generally vested with that person’s parents.

This is a decision that requires a great deal of thought and input from the person’s family or whomever else might be involved in the care of this person.  Obtaining a court date can take anywhere from two to six weeks from the time the application was made.

The ordering of guardianship or conservatorship for a person is a legal process. These are the steps to obtain Guardianship or become an individual’s Conservator:

  • The person who wants to be a guardian or conservator must apply to the Probate Court to attain that position.
  • The Probate Judge must then appoint an attorney to represent the person over whom guardianship or conservatorship is being sought.
  • A hearing must be held, at which time it is incumbent upon the applicant to prove that the person for whom he wants to be guardian or conservator really needs that protection.
  • Though not always absolutely necessary, a person applying for guardianship or conservatorship is probably well-advised to do so with the assistance of an attorney.

Anyone may be appointed as guardian or conservator for a person found to be incapacitated or disabled. However, the judge normally gives preference to immediate family members, and the person chosen should have consented to the appointment.

Expectations Once You Become A Guardian Or Conservator

The guardian/conservator is required to file an annual report with the court, explaining pertinent circumstances of the ward/protectee. From that report, the judge can determine if there needs to be a change in his order of guardianship or conservatorship. Actually, the judge can change that order any time he feels it necessary.

A guardian is not responsible for the financial condition of his ward. Legal and court costs of guardianship or conservatorship proceedings against an individual will be charged to his county of residence if he cannot pay for them himself.

Some Basic Differences Between Guardianship And Conservator

 

Guardianship

  • Guardianship is the legal process of determining a person’s capacity to make decisions for himself regarding his personal affairs (such as where he lives or the care he requires.)
  • A Guardian is a person appointed by the Probate Court to handle the affairs of a person who has been adjudged to be incapacitated, i.e., not capable of handling his own personal affairs.
  • Guardianship is the result of a court hearing that establishes the need to appoint an individual (guardian) to assume substitute decision-making powers for another person (ward) who is not capable of exercising his or her rights due to incapacity or incompetence. The standard for determining incapacity generally requires that a person is functionally unable to care for self or property, and cannot communicate decisions regarding care for self or property.
  • Guardianship is the most restrictive limitation on personal decision-making authority that a court can impose on a person. The ward automatically loses the right to vote, to choose where to live, obtain a driver’s license, to approve medical procedures, enter contracts, and other essential decisions.

Conservatorship

  • Conservatorship is similar to guardianship but deals only with financial affairs of an individual. It is not unusual for the guardian to also serve as conservator.
  • A Conservator is a person or corporation appointed by the Probate Court to handle the financial affairs of a person who has been declared to be disabled, i.e., not capable of handling his own financial affairs.
  • The Conservator must report to and seek approval from the court for expenditures.
  • A conservator cannot make any decisions about an individual’s life.

Costs of Guardianship

The costs of guardianship include the attorney’s fees and court costs. Court costs for an uncontested guardianship average around $600. Attorney fees can vary widely, typically less than $1,000 for an uncontested guardianship. Be sure to ask the attorney for an estimate of the total cost before you engage their services.

Income-eligible families can contact Legal Services of Eastern Missouri by clicking here for a referral to pro bono attorneys to assist with guardianship.

For helpful information on how to make this important decision, please visit the Missouri Family to Family website by clicking here.