When a conservatorship proceeding is initiated in the local probate court, it's often an unpleasant, or at least an awkward affair. It can also be a rather confusing affair for the uninitiated, so the purpose of this three-part blog is to explain the different roles involved in this unique legal matter.
When a conservatorship application is submitted to the local probate court, someone (the "petitioner") is claiming to the Court that the person in question (the "respondent") has lost the capacity to manage his own personal and/or financial affairs. If the Court agrees with the petitioner then a "conservator" is appointed to take over some or all of the respondent's affairs. This is obviously a serious matter because such an action essentially takes away many of the respondent's civil rights. So the laws establish safeguards to ensure that appointing a conservator is the right thing to do in under the circumstances.
First of all, the Court will appoint an attorney to represent the respondent. This is assuming that the respondent does not have the ability to go out and find his own attorney the way an average person would (looking through the Yellow Pages, asking friends for referrals, etc.). The attorney is required to treat the respondent like any client that walked into her office off the street. That is to say that she can counsel the client on how to proceed (assuming she is able to effectively communicate with the respondent), but ultimately the attorney must ascertain what the respondent's position is in regards to the conservatorship; does the respondent agree that he needs a conservator or is he objecting to the conservatorship application? Or something in between?
But once the attorney learns the respondent's position, she needs to advocate for that position in court. This is where it can get awkward for the attorney, because no matter how irrational or unreasonable the respondent's position is, the attorney is still obligated to advocate for that position.