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What is a conservatorship?

There are times when an adult loses the ability to care for himself or herself. Perhaps he or she can no longer manage finances or other day-to-day necessities. If this happens, a case may be brought in California courts to ask a judge to appoint a responsible person or organization to step in. This is known as establishing a conservatorship on behalf of the incapacitated person, referred to as the conservatee.

The needs of the conservatee will determine what type of conservatorship is established. For example, a probate conservatorship, the most common type, is based on laws specified in the California Probate Code. A general conservatorship oversees adults who can't take care of themselves or their finances. Although often protecting the elderly, they can also benefit younger people who have been impaired in some way. A car accident victim is an example. A limited conservatorship is utilized for adults who have developmental disabilities. They usually don't need the higher level of care required in a general conservatorship; however, they need help with finances.

There is another type of conservator appointed to help adults with serious mental health illnesses requiring special care. They need restrictive living arrangements and drug-controlled behavior treatment, but don't or won't agree to either on their own. Known as Lanterman-Petris-Short conservatorships, they are undertaken initially by a local governmental agency.

Probate conservators can be of the person, of the estate or both. An appointment as a conservator of the person doesn't automatically make him or her in charge of the estate. To be both, one must petition the court requesting that appointment. A conservator of the estate handles the conservatee's financial matters – paying bills and managing income. A conservator of the person makes sure the conservatee has proper food, clothing, shelter and medical care.

People who can file for conservatorship include a spouse or domestic partner, relative, an interested state or local entity, friend or other interested person and the proposed conservatee for himself or herself. The court will make a decision based on its determination of the best interests of the conservatee. When there is disagreement or disputes among the parties, litigation may be necessary to resolve conservatorship issues.

Source: California Courts, "Conservatorship," accessed May. 21, 2015

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