How Do Guardians and Conservators Get New Cases?
Some guardians work for non-profit associations or public agencies. Most are independent practitioners, hiring staff depending on their practice needs and developing a long-term reputation that will bring continuing referrals and court appointments. New practitioners should be aware that it will likely take a number of years to build a fiduciary practice. Providing Guardianship and Conservatorship services is a business that starts slowly and is not generally suitable as short-term project.
How Do Fiduciaries Get Paid?
Fees are collected from the estate of the protected person. Some clients have estates that are large enough to support the fees of a Guardian or Conservator. Occasionally, a public or private funding source is available for some fees. Fiduciaries must keep scrupulous records of their time and activity and submit their request for fees to the court.
The supervising probate judge must approve all fee collections, so the guardian or conservator will generally experience a significant lag time (up to a year or more) between when work occurs and when payment may be collected. Most private practitioners report that about 30% of their caseload is “pro bono”, not billable, or not collectable.
What if I Want To Change Businesses?
Guardianship and Conservatorship appointments frequently continue for the life of the client. When a Guardian or Conservator wants to leave the business or retire, they will generally be expected to secure another suitable fiduciary and supervise transferring their cases through the court process to have them assigned to another guardian or conservator that the client and court find suitable.
What Other Issues Are Special to Being a Guardian or Conservator?
Guardians are typically responsible for medical and other decision-making. You must be available and easily reached on a 24-hour basis. Building flexibility into your work and life schedules will help you be successful in responding to these obligations. It is also important to schedule respite time for yourself and have a reliable, qualified substitute on call during your absence.
Though this profession, by its very nature, is filled with unique and challenging situations, most Guardians and Conservators reflect that this is the most rewarding work they have ever done. Guardians and Conservators make profound and lasting improvements in quality of living for clients who may have previously experienced significant loss, abuse and exploitation.
What is The Best Way To Learn More and Get More Experience?
Get some training. Read everything you can find. Get involved with any professional organizations near you. Get involved as a volunteer visitor, support worker, book-keeper or in another role for an existing fiduciary who has a good reputation and whose work you believe matches your work ethics and style. Consider asking an existing practitioner to let you work under their supervision. Explore the business and find out if it is really for you before making a long-term commitment.
No one training or educational degree alone will give someone the skills and experience to be a Guardian or Conservator. Training in human services and fiscal management is available from many sources.
Training specific to fiduciary practice is available from, among others, bar associations, National Guardianship Association (particularly at the annual fall conference), and the Oregon GCA.
Certification is offered through the national Center for Guardian Certification. Professional guardians and conservators must have backgrounds free of any criminal/personal/fiscal issues which would prohibit certification or make the court question their ability or ethics. Guardians need a combination of experience and education to be eligible to take the tests for national and Oregon certification. See the menu bar for certification for exam information.
Also see the National Guardianship Association website for publications and practice standards and ethics for guardians.