The Iowa Legislature recently passed House File 610, which makes several important changes to the way conservatorships for adults and minor children are handled in Iowa. This new law will take effect on January 1, 2020.
House File 610 and a companion bill, House File 591, also change the way guardianships for adults and minors are handled in Iowa.
Changes in Terminology
- House File 610 replaces old terminology that was seen by many as outdated and offensive. A respondent is a person who is proposed to be subject to conservatorship. This term replaces “proposed ward.”
- Once a court officially appoints a conservator, the respondent becomes the protected person. A protected person is a person who is currently under conservatorship. This term replaces “ward.”
New Rules for Starting Conservatorships
House File 610 changes the procedure for how conservatorships begin. Before a conservator can be appointed, the following must happen:
- Background Check. The court must perform a statewide background check of all individuals who are proposed to serve as conservators, including a check of criminal records as well as the child abuse, dependent adult abuse, and sexual offender registries. The person asking for the conservatorship (the petitioner) must pay a $15.00 fee for the background check.
- An adult respondent is always entitled to an attorney unless the respondent is also the petitioner. A minor respondent may also be entitled to an attorney in certain cases. The court can appoint an attorney for a respondent who cannot afford or hire an attorney. The attorney’s job is generally to advise the respondent and advocate for the respondent’s wishes.
- Professional Evaluation. Before the court may begin, change, or end a conservatorship for an adult, the court generally must require a professional evaluation of the adult. The evaluation must be done by a professional such as a physician, psychologist, or social worker, who must file a written report with the court.
- Court Hearing. Before a conservatorship can begin, there must be an in-person hearing in front of a judge. At the hearing, the petitioner may tell the judge why the conservatorship is needed, and other parties may argue against a conservatorship. Adult and minor respondents have the right to attend the hearing in person. If a respondent does not attend, the court must be given a good reason for the respondent’s absence.
- Bond. All individual conservators must file a bond with the court unless the court finds that an alternative arrangement would sufficiently protect the conservatorship assets. The bond is similar to an insurance policy, and provides protection if the conservator makes mistakes or commits dishonest acts.
New Rules for Administering Conservatorships
House File 610 also changes how conservatorships are implemented. Some of these changes are as follows:
- Within 90 days after their appointment, conservators must file an Inventory listing certain information about the protected person’s income and assets.
- Within 90 days after their appointment, conservators must also file a Financial Plan. The Plan must include the following:
- A budget showing the conservatorship’s projected expenses and resources
- An estimate of the total amount of fees the conservator anticipates charging per year and the amount the conservator proposes to charge for each service
- A statement as to how the conservator will involve the protected person in decisions about management of the conservatorship assets
- The steps the conservator plans to take to develop or restore the protected person’s ability to manage the conservatorship assets, if ordered by the court to do so
- An estimate of how long the conservatorship will last
- Conservators must file an Annual Report each year. There are no exceptions to this rule, and conservators may not go longer than a year between filing Annual Reports, even if they had done so in the past. The Annual Report must include the following information about the current reporting period:
- Balance of funds on hand at the beginning and end of the reporting period
- Disbursements made
- Changes to the Financial Plan
- List of the conservatorship assets at the end of the reporting period
- The bond amount and the bond surety’s name
- The protected person’s residence and physical location
- The protected person’s general physical and mental condition
- Other information reflecting the condition of the conservatorship assets
Copies of the Inventory, initial and amended Financial Plan, and Annual Reports, along with a formal legal notice of the initial Financial Plan, must be provided to the protected person and the protected person’s attorney. If the court has appointed a court visitor (formerly referred to as a “guardian ad litem”) to ensure the protected person’s best interests are being served, then these documents must also be given to the court visitor.
Actions that Conservators May Take
The new law states that a conservator may not take any actions on behalf of a protected person unless the conservator receives specific permission from the court first. The court’s order appointing the conservator should specifically list the actions that the conservator may take on the protected person’s behalf.
What Current Conservators Need to Know
If you were appointed as conservator before January 1, 2020, you should keep in mind:
- No Background Check. The new law says that the court will run a background check before deciding whether to appoint a person as a conservator. Because the court has already appointed you as conservator, you will not need to undergo a background check.
- Conservators were already required to file an Inventory under the previous law. If you were appointed as conservator before January 1, you would have already filed an Inventory, and will not need to file another one.
- Annual Reports. Starting January 1, your Annual Reports will need to include all of the information listed above. If you have not filed an Annual Report each year in the past, you will need to begin doing so now.
- Financial Plan. You will need to file a Financial Plan, but you do not need to do this until you file your next Annual Report. There is no deadline for filing the Financial Plan, so long as you file it at the same time as you file your next Annual Report.
- Your Powers as Conservator. You will not be able to take any actions for the protected person without prior specific court approval, but this change will not apply to you until you file your Financial Plan. Until that time, you will have all the same powers that you had before January 1, 2020. When you file your Financial Plan and next Annual Report, it is very important that you ask the judge to enter an order listing your specific powers as conservator at that time.
House File 610 includes many important changes designed to provide more transparency and better protection for individuals under conservatorships. If you are serving as conservator for someone else or if you or someone you know is in need of a conservatorship, you should consult with an attorney to ensure these new requirements are met.