Libby is a fun and energetic 62 year old woman. Two years ago, she was diagnosed with Alzheimers, but few of her friends know about Libby’s disease. Usually she is fine, but sometimes Libby gets confused or can’t remember what she was doing. Last week, Libby purchased a $9,000 home security system she doesn’t want or need, and she knows she wasn’t thinking straight. She cried all week.

Libby’s daughter Amanda was advised by the family lawyer to become her mother’s court appointed guardian and conservator. Amanda believes the court process would destroy her mother’s hope and dignity, but she doesn’t know how to protect her from bad financial decisions. She also wants the right to make emergency health care decisions if necessary.

What would you do? Most families talk, argue and then do nothing until the worst
happens. For most Utah families, the decision to file for a guardianship on a family member is a difficult one.
A “guardianship” takes away a person’s right to make personal decisions such as where to live, where to go and what to do. A “conservatorship” takes away a person’s right to spend their money and make financial decisions. These appointments are so total that Libby could not even write checks or use credit cards if Amanda was appointed as her guardian and conservator. Libby would be embarrassed and humiliated. At this point in Libby’s illness, she doesn’t need such drastic legal measures.

The solution: Libby met with a Utah elder law attorney who suggested the following:

  1. Libby can sign a Utah Advance Health Care Directive (a special medical power of
    attorney) giving her daughter the right to make emergency medical care decisions for her. This
    will eliminate the present need for a guardianship.
  2. Libby can agree to a “limited conservatorship” which leaves her freedom to write
    checks, use her debit card and manage her normal financial affairs. Amanda can be given a
    limited legal authority to review Libby’s bills, approve in advance all contracts and purchases
    over a certain dollar to limit (all contracts over $1,000 and all new credit card applications for
    example), and manage Libby’s bank accounts. Amanda’s legal authority can be restricted or
    expanded to meet her mother’s personal and unique circumstances, and only a few people will
    know of the restrictions.

This way Libby can lead as normal a life as possible and Amanda can help her quietly. Libby can preserve her dignity as long as possible.

Published February 1, 2009