Dementia, stroke, and other debilitating illnesses are all too common, especially among the elderly. What happens if you have a loved one with an issue like this? You probably want to make sure they get all the attention and care they need. If you live in the Golden State, one way of ensuring you have the legal authority to help your loved one is via a conservatorship of the person in California.
Applying for and managing conservatorship can make an enormous difference in your loved one’s quality of life, but it involves a complex process. Here’s how a conservatorship of the person in California works and how you can smoothly navigate the legal process.
What Is a Conservatorship of the Person?
Conservatorship of the person is a legal arrangement that puts a person or organization in charge of the personal affairs, including medical decisions, of an incapacitated person. The appointed person is referred to as the “conservator of the person,” while the incapacitated person is the conservatee. Conservatorship of the person is under the probate conservatorships in California and is thus based on the California probate code.
Conservatees can be (and often are) elderly people. However, younger people who are gravely impaired from birth or via accident or illness may also require help with their medical and personal care decisions via a conservatorship of the person.
Some common conditions requiring conservatorship of the person include dementia, drug addiction, and debilitating injury. They also include organic brain disorders and biological brain disorders (requiring LPS conservatorship). This can include Schizo-affective disorder, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, and compulsive disorder.
Normally, a conservator is a suitable family friend or family member of the conservatee. However, if you know someone who needs medical and personal care decisions made for them and does not have someone who can step up to fill the role of conservator in their lives, you can refer them to a public guardian or public conservator. You can also contact Adult Protective Services if you are aware of aging people who are not eligible for public guardian services.
What Does a Conservator of the Person Do?
When a responsible person or organization is assigned the role of conservator of the person, they have certain duties to carry out. As a conservator, you manage medical care and other types of special care for the person who lacks mental ability or physical ability. Your conservatorship functions include the following:
- Devise ways to ensure the conservatee’s protection and personal care
- Decide where the conservatee’s residence should be
- Make plans for the conservatee’s clothing, meals, shelter, health care and medical treatment, medical emergencies, transport, and general wellbeing
- Regularly check in with the court on the conservatee’s well-being
As a conservator, keep in mind that you do not necessarily have carte blanche to make these decisions. For example, let’s say your conservatee has dementia and requires secure long-term care or needs to be in a residential care facility, and you decide they can best receive this care out of state. You will need to have this decision approved by the court. Likewise, you may need to consult the court if your conservatee can’t give informed consent and you need to communicate decisions to health care providers that go against the conservatee’s wishes.
What About My Loved One’s Financial Affairs?
Keep in mind that there are different kinds of conservators, and a conservator of the person is just one. It is important to note that being a conservator of the person doesn’t mean you’ll handle your conservatee’s financial matters.
Even professional conservators of the person are not professional fiduciaries. They are not responsible for the conservatee’s financial affairs, such as social security payments/social security checks, joint accounts, and community property. Likewise, they have no financial responsibility for payment arrangements, accurate records of annual income, handling title on bank accounts, and the like.
The person who handles the conservatee’s financial transactions and real property is the conservator of the estate. If you want to have the legal authority to handle estate conservatorship and your conservatee’s personal and financial affairs, you have to file a separate petition for both conservatorship estate and conservatorship for people. One person can indeed hold both of these positions.
If you need more information on a conservatorship of the estate, which allows conservators to act as financial and property administrators, check out our article on conservatorships of the estate.
How to Get a Conservatorship of the Person in California
Do you now realize that conservatorship of the person might be the option your loved one needs? Although setting up a conservatorship of the person in California isn’t an easy process, it becomes way more manageable when you know the rules for conservatorships.
Here are the steps to take to obtain conservatorship of the person in California as outlined by the California court system.
1. File a Petition for Conservatorship of the Person
Filing a petition for the appointment of a conservator kickstarts the conservatorship application process. Anyone has the legal authority to file the petition for this adult conservatorship. This can include:
- The proposed conservator
- The proposed conservatee’s family members
- An interested party.
For a conservatorship of the person petition, you will need to include information on:
- The proposed conservatee and relatives
- The proposed conservator
- The petitioner (the person filing the documents to the court)
- Why conservatorship of the person is necessary (e.g. bipolar disorder, brain trauma, etc.)
- Why the probable alternatives to conservatorship (such as power of attorney) aren’t suitable in this case?
- A supplementary confidential report about the conservatee with additional information (such as medical records) as needed.
The petitioner is expected to file the petition with their county’s court clerk and pay the required filing fee/court investigator fee. However, if the petitioner is a low-income earner, they can request a fee waiver from the court’s judicial council.
2. Inform the Proposed Conservatee and Their Relatives of the Arrangement
The petitioner must recruit an unrelated third party to deliver a copy of the petition and citation and the notice of hearing to the proposed conservatee. This person is called the server during the application process.
In addition to delivering a copy to the conservatee, the server will send/deliver a copy of the petition and the written notice of hearing on the petition to the proposed conservatee’s relatives. This is so the conservatee and their loved ones have a chance to contest the arrangement if they wish to.
3. Undergo The Court’s Investigation
During a conservatorship investigation, the court investigator determines if the conservatorship is actually necessary. They may probe those who share relations with the proposed conservatee or are familiar with their state. However, if parts of the assessment might lead to the conservatee’s discomfort, the court can deem them unnecessary.
4. The Court Hearing
At the hearing, the judge will check if everyone has been well represented and if it is necessary to appoint a lawyer to take the place of the conservatee. The proposed conservatee must attend the conservatorship hearing; the only exception is if the conservatee is excused based on an illness or mental disorder.
If you provide convincing evidence, the judge will likely grant the conservatorship of the person. The conservatorship court then issues the letters of conservatorship to the conservator.
5. Assume the Role
After the judge has appointed a reasonable person as the conservator and you have confirmed your conservatorship status, you must read the Handbook for Conservators. You can get a hard copy from the Conservatorship Court Regional Center. Visit your County’s self-help center for more information. As the conservator, you’ll also have to attend the court’s training for conservators so you have adequate training for this important task.
At this point in the process, the conservator of the person has special powers over the conservatee as authorized by California’s probate code with regards to medical and personal care decisions. You’ll have to give regular reports to the court involving the healthcare decisions and other personal care decisions you make for the conservatee. This is meant to protect the conservatee from undue influence or the infringement of their civil rights.
How Long Does It Take to Get Conservatorship of the Person in California?
if you’ve made it this far, you can probably tell that applying to become a conservator of the person isn’t a walk in the park. The court appearances and paperwork required to undergo a conservatorship process can be stringent. Hence, the standard wait time for conservatorship of the person for a permanent conservator in California is 60 days.
However, there are times of emergencies where this wait time has to be shrunk to five days. This type of conservatorship called a temporary conservatorship. You might need to file for one if, for example, your loved one is in an accident and requires urgent personal and medical treatment decisions to be made on their behalf.
As a temporary conservator, a government agency can grant you limited conservator power and not exclusive authority to make medical and personal care decisions for the person. Such an arrangement is also only possible in conjunction with a permanent conservatorship application.
Is a Conservatorship Attorney Necessary?
No, not necessarily! If your loved one needs mental health treatment for an issue like chronic alcoholism, suffers from a physical injury that has left them incapacitated, or is one of the otherwise disabled people who requires the assistance of a conservatorship of the person, you may be able to make the proper arrangements on your own. All you need is a person or an organization to help you sort your legal documents.
That being said, you will likely need a lawyer if someone contests your application. For example, if you file to be a conservator of the person for your mother and your sibling contests the filing, both of you will need representation in court. However, for most uncontested personal conservators, A People’s Choice is all they need to navigate the application process.
File for Conservatorship of the Person with A People’s Choice
An affordable organization that helps with legal document preparation can help you avoid paying large sums to attorneys. A People’s Choice is just such a service. We can’t give legal advice, but our legal document preparation services are top-notch, and our fees are affordable. Begin with a simple questionnaire and be on your way to helping the person closest to you navigate their physical health and mental disorders more easily.
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