Guest Contributor: Veronica Serrato, Esq.
If a minor’s estate has moderate assets or property, the Massachusetts court can appoint a Conservator to manage and protect the minor’s money and property, handle the minor’s business affairs, and direct funds needed for the minor’s support and education. Veronica Serrato, Staff Attorney at Volunteer Lawyers Project, offers information about Conservatorship of a Minor and how to become a Conservator.
1. What is Conservatorship of a Minor?
Conservatorship is a protective legal process where the Probate and Family Court may appoint a person called a Conservator to manage and protect the money and property of a minor.
A conservatorship is a complex legal matter that really should be filed with the assistance of an attorney. There are numerous requirements imposed upon Conservators. Although the Probate Court cannot require that a litigant get a lawyer to become a Conservator, litigants are, in fact, routinely turned away by the Probate Court and instructed to get an attorney. It is important to get legal advice before beginning a conservatorship proceeding.
2. What is the difference between a Guardian and a Conservator?
A Guardian takes on a role similar to that of a parent providing stability and care, and uses the child’s money for the child’s health, education and welfare. A Guardian can manage moderate amounts of a child’s money and receive funds up to $5000 per year to use on the minor’s behalf, and become a child’s representative payee for authority to receive any SSI, or social security income for the child.
If a minor’s estate includes a more substantial amount of money or real property, the Court may appoint a Conservator. A Conservator manages and protects the minor’s money and property, handles the minor’s business affairs, and directs funds needed for the minor’s support and education. For example, a conservatorship is not needed if the child receives SSI or TAFDC but would be likely be required if the child were to inherit a significant amount of money or real property.
3. What does a Conservator do?
A Conservator takes an inventory of all the assets and property in the minor’s estate. The Conservator makes decisions regarding the minor’s money, real estate property, income, personal property, business affairs, provides funds for the support and care of the minor, and can create revocable trusts of the property of the estate. A Conservator must keep a detailed account of the minor’s estate and submit a written report summarizing the financial activity to the Court annually.
4. Who can be a Conservator?
The Court can appoint any qualified adult to be Conservator a family member, a friend, a professional or an organization. A child 14 years old and older can nominate a person to be Conservator.
5. Can the same adult be appointed both a child’s Guardian and Conservator?
Yes. If the Court determines it is in the child’s best interest, the Court can appoint one adult to hold these two separate roles and responsibilities. The adult must file two petitions with the Court: a Petition for Guardianship and a Petition for Conservatorship. The Court can hear both Petitions at the same hearing.
6. Is there a cost associated with becoming a Conservator of a Minor?
Yes, there is a filing fee and other costs associated with a Conservatorship. The filing fee is $215. Because the Court has budgetary constraints and the minor has assets, the Court is not likely to waive the filing fee. In addition, there are costs associated with giving notice to interested persons, filing a bond and with getting certified copies of letters of appointment of a conservator.
7. What is a bond?
A guardian or conservator must sign and submit a bond accepting the duties as a fiduciary. A fiduciary protects the assets and income of the minor child entrusted to the Conservator’s protection. A bond has a filing fee of $50.
In addition, the Court could require corporate or personal sureties on a bond. Personal sureties are the signatures of two persons willing to vouch for the conservator and who agree to be held liable for the penal sum on the bond. The penal sum of a bond is 150% of the minor’s assets. For example, if the minor inherits $100,000, the penal sum of the bond would be $150,000. The personal sureties would each be liable for $150,000 if the Conservator fails to execute his duties responsibly.
Corporate surety requires the Conservator to get a bond from a bonding company. The bonding company charges the Conservator a fee which is a percentage of the value of the minor’s estate. That fee must be paid annually.
8. How do you become a Conservator?
Generally the court forms and procedures for becoming a Conservator are the same for a minor and a disabled adult. There are some differences, so check with the staff at the Registry Office in the Probate and Family Court for assistance. The process can be broken down into four steps:
Step 1. Fill out and file a Petition for Conservatorship for a Disabled Adult, which has a check box on the form for Conservator of a Minor. File out and file other necessary court forms. If you have an emergency and a child needs a conservator appointed right away to avoid a harmful situation, ask the staff at Registry about a Temporary Conservatorship. A Temporary Conservatorship is effective for 90 days while you complete the necessary steps to obtain permanent Conservatorship.
Step 2. Notify all interested parties that a Petition for Conservatorship has been filed. There are specific rules for who is entitled to receive notice, how notice is delivered, and by what date. Check with the staff at Registry or go to the Probate and Family Court web site for more information.
Step 3. Attend the Conservatorship hearing at the appointed time and date. The Judge will review all the court paperwork. If notice was properly delivered, and there is a qualified conservator, and it is in the child’s best interest to appoint a Conservator, the Judge can grant the Conservatorship.
Step 4. File necessary reports with the Court. A conservator is required to file a 90 day and annual accounts with the Court accounting for all of the minor’s income and assets and demonstrating how any money has been spent. The Conservator is subject to continued scrutiny by the Court.
9. After I am appointed Conservator, what responsibilities do I have to the Court?
A Conservator must file a Conservator’s Inventory within 90 days of the appointment, which is a detailed list of the assets and property of the minor. A Conservator must also file a Conservator’s Account annually, accounting for and summarizing the year’s financial activity. Additionally, a Conservator may be asked to file a Conservator’s Financial Plan to report on the minor’s financial condition. All these forms are available at your local Probate and Family Court or on-line at the court’s web page.
10. Where can I find more information and help?
You can find more information and court forms at your local Probate and Family Court, or by going on-line at http://www.mass.gov/courts/courtsandjudges/courts/probateandfamilycourt/upcforms.html
Veronica Serrato, Staff Attorney at Volunteer Lawyers Project Volunteer Lawyers Project provides free legal assistance to low income clients in a variety of matters including family law, housing eviction defense, bankruptcy, wills, unemployment compensation and guardianship of adults and minors. Visit www.vlpnet.org.
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