A legal guardianship in Alabama is a court proceeding used to appoint someone to be responsible for the personal well-being of a minor or incapacitated adult. A person under a guardianship is called a ward. If the ward needs someone to manage his property or money, Alabama law allows for the appointment of a guardian of the estate, which in Alabama is known as a "conservator." Depending on circumstances, the same person can be appointed as guardian and conservator.
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Appointment of Guardian or Conservator
A guardian or conservator is appointed after an appropriate petition is filed with the probate court -- with supporting documentation -- and a hearing is held. In the case of an incapacitated adult, a physician's examination is required. Alabama law specifies that the court may appoint any qualified person as a guardian or conservator, but the court must follow certain priorities. For example, the ward's spouse has priority of appointment over the ward's adult child or parent. In the case of a minor, the parents' nomination of a qualified person in a will is given priority; however, a minor who is over the age of 14 can object to a parental appointment. In such a situation, the court will appoint as guardian the minor's nominee, unless the court finds the person nominated not in the minor's best interest.
Guardian Powers and Responsibilities
In all guardianship cases, the guardian must be acquainted with the ward personally and is responsible for the ward's welfare. If the ward is a minor, the guardian takes on the responsibilities of a parent and must provide for the education, care and support for the minor. For an incapacitated adult, the guardian must ensure that the ward's daily needs are met, such as his meals, personal hygiene and medication. The court has the discretion to limit a guardian's powers or responsibilities as necessary.
Conservator Powers and Responsibilities
A conservator manages the ward's property and protects it from waste or fraud. In general, the conservator can act without further order of the court to receive the ward's income and pay bills and expenses as they become due. This also include managing investments. However, a conservator must obtain court authorization before taking certain actions, such as operating a business for the ward or disposing of real estate. All conservators must complete and file an inventory of the ward's estate within 90 days of appointment and file an accounting with the court every three years.
Termination of Guardianship or Conservatorship
A guardianship or conservatorship for an adult terminates upon the death of the guardian, conservator or ward, and also in cases where the ward's incapacity ends. A guardianship or conservatorship for a minor terminates when the minor reaches the age of majority, is adopted or marries. Any guardianship or conservatorship also ends if the guardian or conservator resigns or is removed by the court.