Protecting Vulnerable People Through Conservatorships
A conservatorship is a court case where a judge appoints a responsible person or organization (called the “conservator”) to care for another adult (called the “conservatee”) who cannot care for himself or herself or manage his or her own finances.
At The Law Office of Jamay Lee, A Professional Corporation, we understand that the financial health of vulnerable Californians can sometimes depend on appointing a conservator to manage their affairs. With years of experience in establishing conservatorships, we are dedicated to guiding you through the process and ensuring that conservatees have the protection that they need.
What Are The Types Of Conservatorships?
There are various types of conservatorships depending on the needs of the conservatee. Probate conservatorships are based on the laws in the California Probate Code. They are the most common type of conservatorship. Probate conservatorships can be:
- General Conservatorships: conservatorships of adults who cannot take care of themselves or their finances. These conservatees are often elderly people, but can also be younger people who have been seriously impaired, like in a car accident, for example.
- Limited Conservatorships: conservatorships of adults with developmental disabilities who cannot fully care for themselves or their finances. Conservatees in limited conservatorships do not need a higher level of care or help that conservatees in general conservatorships need.
When a conservatorship is needed right away, the court may appoint a temporary conservator until a general conservator can be appointed. The request must be filed as part of a general conservatorship case and can be filed either at the same time or soon after the general conservatorship case is opened with the court. The main duties of a temporary conservator are arranging for the temporary care, protection, and support of the conservatee, and protecting the conservatee’s finances and property.
What Are The Duties Of A Conservator?
The duties of a conservator of the person are to:
- Arrange for the conservatee’s care and protection
- Decide where the conservatee will live
- Make arrangements for the conservatee’s: meals, health care, clothing, personal care, housekeeping, transportation, shelter, recreation, and well-being
- Get approval from the court for certain decisions about the conservatee’s health care or living arrangements
- Report to the court on the conservatee’s current status
The duties of a conservator of the estate are to:
- Manage the conservatee’s finances
- Locate and take control of all assets
- Collect the conservatee’s income
- Make a budget to show what the conservatee can afford
- Pay the conservatee’s bills
- Responsibly invest the conservatee’s money
- Protect the conservatee’s assets
- Account to the court and to the conservatee for the management of the conservatee’s assets
Who Can File for Conservatorship?
There are a number of people who can file for a conservatorship:
- The spouse or domestic partner of the proposed conservatee
- A relative of the proposed conservatee
- Any interested state or local entity or agency
- Any other interested person or friend of the proposed conservatee
- The proposed conservatee, himself or herself.
In appointing a conservator, the court is guided by the best interests of the conservatee. If the proposed conservatee has nominated someone (and the proposed conservatee has the mental and physical ability to express his or her preference), the court will appoint that person as conservator unless it is not in the proposed conservatee’s best interests.
If the proposed conservatee has not or cannot nominate anyone, the law provides a list of preferences that the court generally follows when the court determines whether all these persons are qualified to serve as a conservator.
The order of preference is:
- Spouse or domestic partner
- Adult child
- Any other person the law says is okay
- Public guardian
If the person closest to the top of the list does not want to be conservator, he or she can nominate someone else. In the end, regardless of this order of preference, the selection of the conservator is up to the judge, and the judge makes this decision by considering the best interests of the proposed conservatee.
Are There Alternatives To A Conservatorship?
You must be sure that establishing a conservatorship is the only way to meet the person’s needs. If there is another way, an alternative to the conservatorship, the court may not grant your petition.
You may not need a conservatorship if the person who needs help:
- Can cooperate with a plan to meet his or her basic needs
- Has the capacity and willingness to sign a power of attorney naming someone to help with his or her finances or health care decisions
- Has only social security or welfare income every month and the Social Security Administration can appoint you Representative Payee. The Representative Payee is the person the beneficiary allows to receive social security checks in his or her name on behalf of the beneficiary
- Is married or is in a domestic partnership and the spouse or partner can handle financial transactions. The property must be community property or in joint accounts
For medical and personal care decisions, alternatives to a conservatorship include:
- Advance health care directive
- Court authorization for medical treatment
- Informal personal care arrangements
- Restraining orders to protect against harassment
For financial decisions, alternatives to a conservatorship include:
- Power of attorney
- A substitute payee for public benefits (like veterans’ benefits or social security benefits)
- Informal arrangements
- Joint title on bank accounts or other property
- Living trusts (also called “inter vivos” trusts)
Read the Handbook for Conservators to learn more about conservatorships.
Contact Us For Answers To Your Questions
If you wonder whether a conservatorship is the right way to protect a vulnerable person, contact The Law Office of Jamay Lee to discuss your questions with an experienced attorney. You can reach out to our firm online or call 650-378-1263 for more information.