Conservatorship California Must-Knows

The controversial conservatorship California case of Britney Spears is back in the news cycle, with her continued efforts to reclaim control over her life after her conservatorship began in 2008. Regardless of how you might feel about that case – even after the fact that conservatorships are a matter of public record, it’s still very much a private matter, with many details left untold and unshared – conservatorships continue to be an important tool in helping families protect the rights and interests of their loved ones after an episode of mental incapacity, from severe schizophrenia to onset dementia. That being said, they aren’t without controversy and should be carefully examined and understood.

Understanding Conservatorship California Law

Conservatorship California law typically differs from guardianships in terms of who is being represented – in a conservatorship, an adult takes full responsibility for another adult and handles their medical and financial decision-making. Conservatorships can be limited, and there are different circumstances under which they may be granted (and revoked). Guardianships, on the other hand, usually involve the legal care of a child or ward.

When we think of legal guardians, we think of friends or family members adopting a child after their parents died. Legally speaking, conservatorships and guardianships are actually interchangeable and flexible. The exact definition of guardianship or conservatorship is defined by the court in which it is upheld. By definition, both conservatorships and guardianships have the same basic aim – to allow another person, the guardian/conservator(s), to make decisions on behalf of the person included in the guardianship/conservatorship.

A guardianship or conservatorship is usually only possible when the individual being cared for is not a legal adult or is an adult rendered incapacitated or incompetent by certain circumstances (often medical ones). These decisions may be both medical and financial in nature. As mentioned previously, the biggest distinguishing factor is that conservatorships usually apply to adults.

Types of Conservatorship in California

When a family or friends deem it necessary to create a conservatorship to protect the interests of an incapacitated or troubled adult, they need to get approval from a judge. The judge appoints one or multiple people (in the form of an organization) to act as conservators for the care of the adult (the conservatee), with varying degrees of control depending on the type of conservatorship being established. There are two overarching types of conservatorship:

1. Probate Conservatorship

The first is a probate conservatorship, which has its basis in the California Probate Code. This conservatorship is usually granted when a disabled or elderly person can no longer effectively take care of themselves or their finances. Probate conservatorships are either general (giving the conservator a large amount of control) or limited (in cases where the conservatee does not need quite as much help, thus limiting the conservator’s power). Furthermore, a person or organization may have probate-court-appointed conservatorship over either or both a person and their estate.

    • A conservator of a person takes on responsibilities that a judge decides the person themselves can no longer take on. These include having a roof over their head, healthcare requirements, and other basic and medical needs.
    • A conservator of an estate is in charge of a person’s finances and belongings. They manage the person’s assets and money, control when and how they use it, and how it’s reinvested and managed for day-to-day living – including purchasing food, paying the bills, collecting income, paying taxes, and more.

2. Lanterman-Petris-Short (LSP) Conservatorship

Another conservatorship California type is an LSP conservatorship. These conservatorships are not a matter of probate law but are enabled by the California LPS Act of 1967. Originally, the act was created to “end the inappropriate, indefinite, and involuntary commitment of persons with mental health disorders.” In place of this effort, it allows concerned relatives or friends to contact a local government agency and get a public conservator appointed for a loved one struggling with severe mental health issues.

Someone under an LPS conservatorship requires an individualized mental health treatment plan. The primary purpose of an LPS conservatorship is to provide a legal framework through which that treatment can be administered via a public conservator. LPS conservatorships are only necessary when:

    1. The person requires restrictive living requirements and certain treatments, and;
    2. Refuses those treatments despite their condition. The requirement and nature of the treatment can only be determined by a medical professional.

These types of conservatorships are part of the last resort effort to ensure that a person with severe mental health problems gets the help they need – including the proper treatment and medication. For more specifics, contact a legal professional.

What About Guardianships?

California guardianship, much like conservatorship, gives one the right to make decisions on behalf of another person. Under conservatorship California law, there is no clear distinction between a guardian and conservator, nor are there strict definitions for either (regarding their rights and powers begin and end). These are defined by legal forms on a case-by-case basis and determined (and finalized) by a judge’s official decision.

In general, guardianship refers to conservatorship over a child. Children under the age of majority need to be in the custody of a legal guardian, an adult who takes responsibility for their child. Their responsibilities as legal guardians include ensuring that the child’s needs are met and representing their interests (for example, when speaking with doctors or teachers). Types of legal guardians for children include natural parents, adoptive parents, and individuals appointed as guardians by the court (usually if both parents pass away).

Guardianship over an adult may also be referred to as a conservatorship. Under conservatorship California law, a conservator or guardian may be limited to either a person’s wellbeing or their estate but can also be written to include control over both. The specifics of how the conservatorship or guardianship is handled can be explained through modifiers such as guardianship or conservatorship of the person, guardianship or conservatorship of the estate, guardianship or guardianship conservatorship is limited, temporary an emergency, or general.

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