In less than 30 years, California granted over 45,000 conservatorships under the control of the court. Conservatorships can help disabled adults and the elderly with daily activities and their finances. There are a variety of different conservators and an even more diverse population of conservatees. But what is the job of a conservator, and what makes them so important?
Conservatorships at a Glance
There are two types of conservatorships in California: probate and Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) conservatorships.
Probate conservatorships are the most common. General and limited probate conservatorships cover a broad spectrum of individuals who need assistance.
- General conservatorships are for people who cannot take care of themselves. They are most often older people, but they may also be younger individuals with severe impairments. Conservators in these cases can act beyond the court's terms in the interest of the conservatee.
- Limited conservatorships are more or less for adults with developmental disabilities like cerebral palsy, or adults with vision impairment. Because these individuals do not require skilled care or the level of supervision needed in a general conservatorship, their conservators are only responsible for the court's specific terms.
If an individual is in immediate need of care and supervision, a judge may grant permission for a temporary conservator to step in to provide protection and support. These typically fall under general conservatorships, but they are far more limited in scope.
Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) conservatorships are specifically for adults with mental illnesses or chronic addictions (like alcoholism) that prevent them from taking care of themselves. Individuals who qualify for this type of conservatorship may need more restrictive living arrangements, like locked facilities, in addition to extensive mental health treatment.
Those with the following mental illnesses may qualify for LPS conservatorships:
- Bipolar Disorder or Manic Depression
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
It is important to keep in mind that these mental illnesses can be treated outside of a conservatorship if they are not severe. Many people who have a mental illness do not need constant supervision or restrictive environments but may need therapy, prescription medication, and regular check-ins with their physician. You should always talk to your doctor before you seek out treatment of any kind for mental illness.
Each type of conservatorship serves different needs. The goal of conservatorships is to provide proper care and support to individuals in need, whether it be financial, medical, or emotional. That said, a conservator’s duties and responsibilities should reflect the level of care needed and the terms decided by the court.
The Duties of a Conservator
The duty of a conservator depends on the conservatee and the type of conservatorship granted by the court. Conservatorships are necessary for specific needs and should only be given to trustworthy and qualified conservators.
Probate conservators are responsible for the person or the estate. Essentially, this means that the focus of the conservatorship is to take care of daily needs or financial matters. A conservator of the person may prepare meals, provide shelter, and administer health care. They may also need to make medical choices if the conservatee cannot make those decisions for themselves. Estate conservators only handle finances. They pay bills, collect income, and oversee the estate.
If the judge appoints a conservator of the person, they are not automatically a conservator of the estate and vice versa. The judge will decide whether the estate and personal care of a conservatee will be combined or separate. The only situation where they are combined is if the conservator petitions to serve both roles.
LPS conservators have similar powers. They may handle financial matters or protection. The main difference between LPS and probate conservators is that LPS conservators work closely with the health care provider. For example, if the conservatee's psychiatrist recommends treatment in a facility, the conservator can take the steps necessary to follow their recommendation. They may also consent to mental health treatment even if the person in their care objects. LPS conservators must have medical information related to the conservatee's condition before making treatment decisions on their behalf.
California courts provide a handbook for conservators that includes extensive information regarding their responsibilities. It also serves as a resource guide to help conservators make informed decisions for the conservatee.
Conservators are a vital resource for individuals who need a higher level of care. They provide physical, mental, emotional, and medical support for conservatees. In doing so, they have an enormous amount of power over the individual in their care. This can become dangerous if the conservator does not have the conservatee's best interests in mind.
Ultimately, conservatorships are one solution to a variety of very complicated problems and, as such, are not always guaranteed to be the best option for people in need. A conservatorship's success often depends on the conservator's commitment to helping the individual under their care.