Conservatorship: What is It and How Does it Work?
California Conservatorships – An Introduction
Few responsibilities are more profound than taking care of an adult who is unable to care for himself or herself. If appointed by the Court to do so, the person charged with that responsibility is called a “conservator.” The adult needing care is called the “conservatee.” In California, Conservatorship are similar to Guardianship, except Guardianships are for minor children and Conservatorships are for adults. The conservator must be highly responsible, beyond reproach, and deeply compassionate. The job is to do what is best for the adult who relies on the conservator’s care.
California has two types of conservatorships available to adults over the age of 18. The first is known as a “general conservatorship.” The second type of conservatorship is known as a “limited conservatorship.” At Raxter law, we assist with both general and limited conservatorships, and we are proud of our reputation in the probate law community in our advocacy.
Today we aim to educate our clients and potential clients on the role of general conservatorships so you may exercise the best option for an adult who is no longer able to care for his or her own needs. In the near future, we will examine the role of the limited conservatorship under California law.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding an adult who needs help, call now to schedule a convenient time to discuss your particular situation. We are happy to help. Meanwhile, read on for an overview on general conservatorships in California.
There are two types of General Conservatorships. The first is known as a conservatorship of the person. The second is known as a conservatorship of the estate. Each meets a different set of the adult’s needs.
A Conservator of the Person
Where an adult over the age of 18 cannot take care of himself or herself, another party can ask the court to appoint a third party to act as a “Conservator of the Person.” After a hearing, the court can appoint a responsible party to act as conservator of the person. That party then takes over the care and protection of the needy adult. In this case, the conservator makes sure that the conservatee’s needs such as physical health, food, clothing, and shelter are met. A conservator of the person, however, is not responsible for the conservatee’s financial affairs and has no right to manage the adult’s finances.
A Conservator of the Estate
Clients often ask if the conservator of the person can also manage the adult’s financial affairs. The answer is “no.” To fulfill that responsibility, the court must appoint a “Conservator of the Estate.” The conservator of an estate manages the financial affairs of the conservatee such as paying his or her bills and managing income or investments.
If you are already the conservator of the person, you may petition the court to appoint you also to be conservator of the estate. While you may be so appointed, it bears remembering that this process is distinct from the process of becoming conservator of the person. Nothing prevents you from petitioning the court to appoint the conservator of the person at the same time as the conservator of the estate. Bear in mind, however, that they are two separate procedures, requiring different evidence and stand-alone findings by the court.
Candidates for the Role of Conservator
Typically, the court will appoint a conservator from the following list of potential candidates for the job. The court’s preferences will run from the first in the list to the last in order of preference:
Any other person the law permits
If anyone on the list is not interested in serving s/he can nominate another person for the role.
Conservatorships for the Elderly or the Physically Disabled
Conservatorships can be used to protect elderly adults who are suffering from dementia and can no longer manage their general care and well-being or their financial affairs. A conservatorship of the person would be established to care for the patient’s physical and medical needs, while a conservatorship of the estate would be implemented to protect and manage the patient’s financial matters. The same person may be the conservator in both matters, after separate determinations by the court as to the adult patient’s needs for each type of protection.
An adult who has experienced a life changing injury, such as quadriplegia or a traumatic brain injury, may also need the assistance of a conservator of the person and/or a conservator of the estate to help care for them and manage their affairs.
Families of some Hollywood stars have applied for conservatorships for their adult children whose spending habits raged out of control while they suffered from mental health issues. Britney Spears is one, Amanda Bynes is another.
Actor Peter Falk, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, was also subject to a conservatorship hearing brought by his daughter when his disease robbed him of his ability to care for himself. The case highlights the pitfalls of such cases, however, as reported by NBC. Falk’s wife of 32 years fought the adopted daughter’s request for a conservatorship, saying one was not necessary since she was already caring for her husband.
The possibilities for fraud and self-dealing – especially in cases involving financial conservatorships of the estate –raise the question as to whether two parties should be appointed as co-conservators so that checks and balances prevent financial fraud or abuse. In the case of Britney Spears, for instance, her father and an attorney shared the conservatorship role for a time.
Some Conclusions on Conservatorships
While the goal of conservatorships – taking care of someone who cannot care for themselves – is laudatory, the reality can be rife with self-dealing by the conservator. Choose your conservator carefully, consider having two in the role, and scrutinize closely the person seeking control.
Whether and when to seek a conservatorship for a loved one in your life is a tough question, so call our office for a free consultation. We have handled many conservatorship cases, and we pride ourselves on doing so with the utmost compassion, trustworthiness, and care. Call today! We can help you decide the best course of action when you need to assist a loved one.