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Conservatorship in California

Difficult transitions may take place at any time throughout the lifecycle of a family. The legal system may be involved in many transitions that can occur from birth to old age, from changes involving the care of children after their parents split up, to changes involving making arrangements for the care of elderly or disabled adults when they are no longer able to take complete care of themselves.

What is Conservatorship

conservatorshipIn California, if a probate court judge finds that an elderly or disabled person is unable to take care of themselves or their finances, the judge may appoint another person, called a conservator, to take responsibility.  Conservators are often relatives — a child, husband, wife, parent, or sibling of the person who needs help. Sometimes friends may become conservators. If a relative or friend isn’t available or willing to be a conservator, the court may appoint a professional individual or a county agency.

The court proceeding where the probate judge appoints a conservator is called a conservatorship. The person the conservator takes care of is called a conservatee. Every conservatee is different and will have a different combination of needs. One basic type of need is for help performing daily living tasks,  which may include one or more of the following — help with buying food, preparing meals, personal hygiene, getting dressed, transportation, and socializing. Conservators who help with daily needs are called conservators of the person. Another frequent type of need is assistance with financial matters, such as paying bills, keeping track of money, or managing investments. Conservators who help with financial needs are called conservators of the estate. Frequently a court may appoint the same individual to be both conservator of the person and conservator of the estate.

Becoming a conservator is a significant life transition. It means forging a new type of relationship with the person you are taking care of. Not only will your personal relationship with the conservatee be different from what it was before he or she needed your help, but you will also have new legal duties and responsibilities.

Becoming a Conservator

To become a conservator, you need to qualify. That involves attending a court hearing.  If, after the hearing, a judge approves your request to become a conservator, then there are several more steps you will need to take. You may have to get a bond if you will be serving as a conservator of the estate. You will need to sign an oath, promising that you will fulfill your legal duties as a conservator. You will need to fill out and file a form, called the Letters of Conservatorship.

The Letters of Conservatorship will specify many of the actions that you will be authorized to take as a conservator. However, not everything will be spelled out in the Letters. There may be other actions, called powers, that you will be allowed to take as part of your role as conservator. You should talk to your conservatorship attorney about these powers.

Legal Responsibilities of Conservators

The court doesn’t end its involvement after someone becomes appointed a conservator. Instead, the court may become involved at any stage of the conservatorship relationship. This is because the law holds conservators to a high standard. The court has investigators and examiners who monitor conservators to make sure that they continue to serve the best interests of the person they are taking care of.  In addition, if the nature of the conservatorship relationship changes, you may need to get the court’s approval in a process that your lawyer will initiate.

Becoming a conservator is a noble undertaking, one of the most powerful ways of giving back to a loved one and expressing how much you care.  It is also an awesome responsibility that requires keeping up your own emotional strength so that you are best able to help your loved one.  In addition, there are legal requirements throughout the whole conservatorship process, starting when you first decide to apply to become a conservator and lasting throughout the entire time that the conservator relationship continues. With your new legal responsibilities, you will need an experienced conservatorship attorney, someone you can rely on and will be comfortable working with.

Here at the Law Office of Steven L. Fritsch, we are honored to work with the wonderful people who step up to become conservators of their loved ones.  Steven L. Fritsch is a State Bar of California Certified Family Law Specialist. He has been practicing family law in California for more than a decade and has significant experience working with California’s probate courts to help his clients obtain conservatorships and guardianships. Please call us for a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your situation and to find out more about what becoming a conservator involves and how we may be able to help. We are looking forward to meeting you.