According to the National Council on Disability, there are an estimated 1.3 million Americans under conservatorships and guardianships right now. All kinds of people can be subject to such an arrangement—everyone from elderly infirm individuals to celebrities like Britney Spears. If you’re involved in one of those 1.3 million cases as a conservator (or are about to be), it’s best you learn about conservatorship accounts. So, what is a conservatorship account, and how can you acquire one for your conservatee?
Stick around to find out what a conservatorship account is and how to open and manage one. If you’re wondering about adult guardianships, don’t worry; we cover accounts for those too. Read on to find out how.
What Is a Conservatorship?
California applies the term “conservatorship” to anyone 18 years and older who is mentally incapacitated (cannot handle important life decisions). This means that in California, “adult guardianship” really just means “conservatorship.”
In California, a conservatorship is a legal process that specifies the role of a conservator and a conservatee. A judge appoints a conservator to take care of a conservatee, and a conservatee relies on a conservator to take care of themselves and their finances.
Conservatorships can be limited or general depending on the ability of the conservatee to make life decisions. A limited conservatorship may be appropriate when adults don’t require a higher level of care and can make some decisions themselves. Adults under general conservatorship are seriously impaired and cannot handle themselves or their finances without help.
What Is a Conservator?
To answer the question “what is a conservatorship account?”, we first must define a conservator. Basically, a conservator is appointed by a court or judge to make life decisions for the conservatee.
If you’re a conservator, you have a legal obligation to make the best possible decisions for the conservatee to the best of your ability, skills, and belief. Anyone, including relatives and friends, can sue a conservator if they find a reason to believe that they did not act in the conservatee’s best interests or that conservatorship abuse has taken place.
Who Can Be a Conservator?
Sometimes, the incapacitated person has the mental and physical ability to express who their preferred conservator is. This person is often a loved one (such as an adult child or spouse) of the incapacitated person. The judge can then appoint that person unless someone petitions against the choice, arguing that it is not in the best interests of the proposed conservatee.
When the conservatee is unable to nominate a conservator, the court generally follows a list of preferences provided by the law. The list provides all those persons qualified to act as conservators. They include:
- The spouse or domestic partner
- Adult child
- Any other person that the law agrees to serve
- Public guardian
Regardless of this order, the judge chooses the conservator by considering the best interest of the conservatee. A private professional fiduciary is an option for those people who need a conservator but have no suitable relatives or friends to take on power of attorney.
How Can You Become a Conservator?
If you think your loved one needs a conservator and you’re willing to take on that responsibility, you need to file a petition. To be successful and take on durable power, you have to present a convincing legal case as to why the court should take away an incapacitated person’s decision-making authority. To become a conservator, you must complete the following steps.
1. File a Conservatorship Petition
You need to complete and file a conservatorship petition as a first step. This petition details information on the proposed conservatee, their relatives, and the petitioner/conservator. Make sure to indicate why the conservatorship is necessary and why the other alternatives aren’t viable.
2. Inform the Proposed Conservatee and Their Relatives
California requires the petitioner to have an adult serve a citation and a copy of the petition to the proposed conservatee. You should also have this messenger email a written notice to the conservatorship court hearing. They must also deliver a copy of the petition to the conservatee’s relatives 15 days before the hearing date. This process ensures everyone, including the protected person, knows what’s going on and has the chance to contest if necessary.
Before making any decision, the judge determines whether all the required parties have been informed of the conservatorship. The judge can then grant the petition given that the case meets all requirements before issuing the letters of conservatorship.
The person subject to the proposed conservatorship must be present at the hearing unless they are too sick to attend. If there’s an estate connected with the protected person, the conservator must file a surety bond unless there’s a court order requiring the bank accounts to be frozen.
Forms Needed to File for Conservatorship in California
These are the forms you’ll need to file as a conservator. Get help filling these out from A People’s Choice.
- GC-310 Petition for Appointment of Probate Conservator
- GC-020 Notice of Hearing
- GC-320 Citation for Conservatorship
- GC-312 Confidential Supplemental Information
- GC 314 Confidential Conservator Screening Form
- GC-335 Capacity Declaration
- GC-340 Order Appointing Probate Conservator
What Is a Conservatorship Account in California?
Let’s say your petition is successful and you become the conservator of the disabled person. If you are a conservator of the estate (financial conservator), you need a conservatorship account. If you aren’t sure what type of conservatorship your loved one needs, check out our article on different types of conservatorship.
A conservatorship holds assets and money owned by the conservatee, which you can then use to make financial decisions for the conservatee and pay their living expenses. When opening and managing a conservatorship account, you have to make it 100% clear that the money belongs to the conservatee. When you begin working as a conservator of the estate, you have to determine or catalog all the conservatee’s assets and find a way to separate those estates from everyone else’s, including your own. This helps to keep you accountable as a conservator and ensures no one can accuse you of exploiting the personal finances of the conservatee for personal gain. Here’s how this works and what you can expect.
Opening and Setting up Conservatorship Accounts
Start by using an account name that distinguishes it as a conservatorship account and not a personal account. Conservatorship account names often follow this formula: “Conservatorship of [conservatee’s name], [conservator’s name], Conservator of the Estate.” You can also use the conservatee’s security number for estate accounts. Keep in mind that securities in the estate accounts must contain a name that indicates that they are an estate property.
Investments and Other Interest Bearing Accounts
As a conservator of the estate, you should always put estate funds in interest-bearing accounts unless you require it for the conservatee’s ordinary expenses. This helps the conservatee to grow their assets.
The court may require you as the conservator to place the conservatee’s money and securities in a blocked account. This safeguards the assets and may save the estate the cost of a bond. Why? Put simply, no one can withdraw funds from the blocked account without the court’s permission, lending peace of mind to anyone concerned about the finances of the estate.
Using a Conservatorship Account
What is a conservatorship account like when in use? Essentially, as the personal representative of the person with the physical or mental disability, you’ll use the conservatorship account to preserve and manage assets and restore and uphold the conservatee’s financial stability.
You may draw from the account to manage the conservatee’s financial affairs and pay bills on time, including invoices for medical care, daily care, and physical care items or services. You may also make deposits from governmental benefits, public benefits, amounts of money acquired from real estate or other sales, etc.
California law imposes certain restrictions on the conservator to ensure they protect the interests and civil rights of the conservatee. You’re expected, as the conservator of the estate, to make an inventory of the person’s assets, keep accurate financial records, and occasionally file financial proceedings with the court. If you decide to hire an attorney for permanent decisions such as selling real property, note that you can’t use resources from the conservatorship bank account to compensate the attorney without court supervision.
Should I Look for a Conservatorship Lawyer?
A conservatorship attorney well versed in CA law can help you with much-needed paperwork in conservatorship, which can be a hassle. However, most of the time, you can handle the paperwork for a conservatorship yourself with help from a legal document preparation service like A People’s Choice.
However, there is one scenario in which you may want to consider hiring a lawyer: if the proposed conservatee or their family members object to the conservatorship via a petition. In that case, you need to attend a legal hearing, and the proposed conservatee can acquire legal counsel as well. You as the petitioner have to oppose the counsel. Such legal cases can be quite challenging, but a well-versed conservatorship lawyer can help you navigate the process.
Set Up a Conservatorship Account with A People’s Choice
Caring for a potential conservatee doesn’t have to be a hassle, even if you can’t afford expensive attorneys. A People’s Choice is an alternative to a costly law firm. We are here to help complete your legal paperwork in a fraction of the time and with better accuracy than you can manage on your own. Contact us today to get started!
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