In recent years, cases of conservatorship abuse have captured the public eye. Although conservatorship mostly applies to the elderly, any incapacitated individual above 18 years can end up in a conservatorship arrangement. And with more attention on conservatorships in general, many people worry about conservatorship abuse.

If a conservator financially or physically abuses a conservatee, it’s possible to fight the conservatorship. A couple of high-profile individuals have experienced cases of conservatorship abuse recently, shining a light on this issue. So, what warning signs indicate conservatorship abuse, and what can you do to help protect conservatees? In this article, we’ll talk about conservatorship abuse in California and the best ways to fight it.

What Is Conservatorship Abuse?

Conservatorship abuse is normally committed by the conservator, the very person who is supposed to be helping the conservatee (incapacitated person). Since the court appoints the conservator to make key medical and financial decisions on behalf of the conservatee, the conservator has quite a bit of power.

At times, when they use this power of legal representation to their advantage, the conservatee can end up being abused or exploited. Instead of assisting the conservatee or advocating for their legal rights, an abusive conservator may harm or neglect the vulnerable person or steal the person’s estate assets.

What Are the Most Common Forms of Conservatorship Abuse?

There are different kinds of conservatorship abuse depending on the powers of the conservator. The court can grant the conservator the right to make any legal, financial, or personal decisions on behalf of the conservatee. An individual can serve as the conservator of the estate, conservator of the person, or both. It’s easy to see how this can end in disaster if the conservator turns out to be untrustworthy!

Conservatorship abuse can occur in many forms, including:

  • Physical abuse
  • Mental health oppression
  • Financial exploitation
  • Neglect

Conservatorship abuse mostly happens to elderly conservatees. A report carried out over the span of 10 years by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) indicates that about $5.4 million was exploited by the elderly within that time frame. This form of abuse occurred across 45 states that got analyzed and shows just how prevalent problems like this are.

Signs of Conservatorship Abuse in California

Elderly or incapacitated individuals can’t lead normal lives without proper conservatorship arrangements, but anyone placed under conservatorship may experience any form of abuse. If you’re a relative or close friend to the conservatee, there’re many ways to detect signs of abuse from the conservator. Common types of evidence for conservatorship abuse include the following.

Changes in Gifting Behavior

You can note this if the conservator reduces the number of gifts for holidays or birthdays. The conservator may even forget to give out these gifts on behalf of the conservatee. This could be because they’ve had thousands of dollars (or even more) stolen from their accounts.

Bounced Checks

Since the conservator controls the financial matters of the incapacitated person, they may use some of their funds without keeping records. When checks made on behalf of the conservatee bounce without any reason, it may be an indication of misuse of funds.

Unpaid Bills

If the conservatee starts receiving reminders of unpaid bills, it’s an indication that a conservator of the estate might have forfeited their responsibilities of keeping track of expense reports and payments.

Changes in the Estate Plan

Since the conservator sometimes controls assets under the name of the conservatee, it’s important to monitor any sudden changes. If some assets get reallocated or removed from the estate plan, the conservator may have plans to use the conservatee’s property for personal gains.

Other Signs of Conservatorship Abuse

Apart from these basic signs of conservatorship abuse, others include emotional abuse or physical abuse. It’s not easy to detect some forms of abuse, however. Some conservators may work to ensure no one detects the conservatee’s deprivation of rights. That’s why it’s important to stay vigilant if you have a loved one under conservatorship.

High-Profile Conservatorship Abuse Stories

Conservatorship abuse can happen to anyone, including high-profile personalities. Here are three stories that made the news.

Britney Spears

conservatorship abuse

Ms. Britney Spears’s case has significantly exposed the issue of conservatorship abuse. In the fight to end her 13-year conservatorship, Ms. Spears exposed various forms of abuse she experienced. This raised great general concern about when a conservatorship becomes appropriate, inappropriate, or abusive.

During her stint as a conservatee, the pop star participated in various TV reality shows and released several music albums. She’s also performed on tour and resided in Las Vegas. She terms her conservatorship as abusive since she had no mental illness or cognitive disability but was prevented from making basic life decisions, such as marrying and having children.

Britney’ also allegedly experienced some form of financial abuse from her conservator—a significant amount of her proceeds reportedly went to him. This depicts a prime example of a corrupt conservator who abused their power of attorney.

April Parks

Parks served as a professional conservator, but when performing her duties, she financially abused most of her clients. Parks served as a conservator to hundreds of people, mostly incapacitated or elderly individuals. Since she had a significant level of financial control over the business affairs of these individuals, she had a financial incentive to siphon off funds.

Parks allegedly isolated individuals with an intellectual disability from their relatives before draining their bank accounts without any legal agreement. When charged before the court, Parks pleaded guilty for her wrongdoing. In 2019, she was sentenced to between 16 and 40 years in prison.

Chandra Bozelko

Bozelko lived under conservatorship between 2005 and 2014. This happened just after serving her time in a law enforcement prison for nonviolent crimes. Bozelko claims that she was placed under conservatorship unlawfully by her parents since no formal hearing took place.

According to Bozelko, the report regarding her incapacitation was generated without her involvement. No doctor made any face-to-face consultation with her to assess her situation. Bozelko’s placement under conservatorship negatively affected her since she had no power to appeal the criminal charges served against her, she argued. She has since been released from her conservatorship.

What Is the Best Way to Fight Conservatorship Abuse?

Conservatorship is a powerful legal tool. When used improperly, it can bring more harm than good to the conservatee. Conservatorships should be applied sparingly—only when the incapacitated or elderly individual truly needs it.

Properly Reviewing Options for Conservatorship and Conservator

One way to protect conservatees from abuse is proper vetting before an individual is put under conservatorship. Vetting helps ascertain that the conservatorship will benefit the conservatee. Ensure candidates for conservatorship undergo proper hearing and mental evaluation to determine that they cannot manage personal affairs.

Additionally, one can fight conservatorship by vetting the proposed conservator (usually a family member). They must ensure the conservatory meets all the ethical standards to perform their duties and make personal life or medical decisions on behalf of the person subject to the conservatorship.

Chandra Bozelko’s case exemplifies the importance of vetting. Her placement under conservatorship entailed no formal hearing, and the claims of incapacitation against her were also vague.

Registering the Conservator

Another way to fight conservatorship abuse is registering all conservators under one body. Evan Low, a member of the California assembly, proposed this idea. It’s a way to make sure that an individual loses their conservatorship rights if they don’t act in the best interests of the person subject to the conservatorship.

What If You Suspect Conservatorship Abuse?

If you suspect any incidence of conservatorship abuse, it’s time to explore your options. The best courses of action include:

  • Finding the conservatee legal counsel or an elder law attorney
  • Filing a petition for termination of the conservatorship
  • Filing a petition to change the current conservator

Keep in mind that mentally disabled or incapacitated persons find it hard to fight conservatorship abuse if no close relative or family friend exists to oversee the process. It’s therefore essential to uphold the critical attributes of transparency, accountability, and oversight during the period of conservatorship to limit any form of abuse.

Do You Need Help Fighting Conservatorship Abuse?

Elderly or incapacitated individuals have a higher chance of facing conservatorship abuse. However, various legal procedures to fight conservatorship abuse exist. If a conservatee needs legal recourse but can’t or would rather not pay for legal counsel, don’t worry! With a legal document assistance service, you can lawfully fight conservatorship abuse.

At A People’s Choice, we help individuals find and complete the relevant paperwork to fight conservatorship abuse. With our help, you can protect your loved ones from conservatorship abuse. To get started, you can contact us here or call us directly at 800-747-2780.