In California, if a family member is no longer able to make decisions about his or her personal or financial affairs, a judge may be able to appoint someone to care for this person. If the person is an adult, the process is called “conservatorship;” in the case of a minor child, it is usually referred to as “guardianship,” according to the California Judicial Branch website. If you believe a loved one needs this type of legal protection, here’s what you should know about conservatorship in California. The information in this article is about California only and does not necessarily apply to any other state.

Exactly what is a conservator in California?

A judge may grant conservatorship to one or more individuals or agencies. As a conservator, you have the responsibility and decision-making authority to manage the affairs of someone whom a judge has determined incapable of handling his or her personal care or finances, according to the Judicial Branch of California.
There are two main types of conservatorships, according to the Judicial Branch of California:

  • Probate conservatorship, where the conservator is granted authority to manage the financial and/or personal matters of another individual (called the conservatee). This can be a “general” or “limited” conservatorship; typically the conservatee in a general conservatorship needs a higher level of care than one in a limited conservatorship. A probate conservatorship can be temporary until a general conservator can be appointed.
  • Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) conservatorship, which is initiated by a local government agency, is used when a person is severely mentally ill and cannot or will not consent to treatment and intensive care. It lasts for a year; the court must reappoint a conservator if it determines one is needed into the following year.

The Judicial Branch website says a conservator may make decisions about, and provisions for, the conservatee’s:

  • Housing, clothing, meals, health care, personal care, transportation, recreation, and general well-being
  • Income, assets, investments, bills, budget, and overall financial affairs
    The conservator is usually required to make regular reports to the court about the conservatee’s status and account for any financial assets under supervision.

How is a conservatorship established?

Establishing a conservatorship is a complex process, reports the Judicial Branch of California. A family member, friend, or representative of the state files a petition with the court requesting that a conservator be appointed for an individual. The petition lays out the reasons why the individual is no longer competent to make decisions for himself. A court investigator will then interview the proposed conservatee and verify the facts contained in the petition, after which he or she will make a recommendation to the court whether the petition is justified.
At this point, the proposed conservatee and family members are typically notified of the petition hearing. The conservatee must appear in court unless he or she is medically unable to attend. After hearing the testimony and viewing the evidence, the judge determines whether to establish a conservatorship. The conservator must go to training classes. A court investigator will meet with the conservatee periodically to make sure the conservatorship is still necessary.

California law requires every conservator to be given a copy of the Handbook of Conservators.

Who can be a conservator?

The choice of conservator is in the hands of the judge, who should act in the best interests and welfare of the proposed conservatee, says the Judicial Branch of California website. In some cases, the person filing the petition is also the one appointed conservator, but this is not always the case. Generally, the court’s order of preference in appointing a conservator, provided each is willing and equally qualified to serve, is:

  • The conservatee’s spouse or domestic partner
  • An adult child
  • A parent
  • A sibling
  • Any adult approved for this purpose by the court
  • A public guardian

Are there alternatives to a conservatorship?

Before you petition for conservatorship, says the Judicial Branch website, you must be absolutely certain that no other legal remedy will work for the person who needs help. Alternatives to explore before beginning the process might include any of the following, depending on the situation (this is not a complete list):

  • Advanced health-care directives
  • Durable power of attorney
  • Living trusts

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that laws vary by state, and this article is specifically about conservatorship in California.
Note: This article is for general information only, and is not legal advice. You should consult with your own legal counsel to make sure any actions or legal documents fit your particular situation and jurisdiction.

For more information, see the Judicial Branch of California website.

This article is for general information only and may not apply to your circumstances. This article should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult with your medical provider regarding diagnosis or treatment for a health condition, including decisions about the correct medication for your condition, as well as prior to undertaking any specific exercise or dietary routine.