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As a caregiver, you will face many difficulties related to your loved one’s mental, physical, or financial health. This may be especially true for an elderly adult such as an elderly parent or grandparent. In some circumstances, a conservatorship may be the best choice to take charge of an otherwise escalating situation. In this article, we’re going to discuss what conservatorship is, the types of conservatorships that exist, how to file for a conservatorship, and in what circumstances you may want to.

What is a Conservatorship?

Conservatorships have recently been thrown into the spotlight thanks to the highly publicized battle Britney Spears faced to end hers. The simplest definition of a conservatorship is that it is a form of legal guardianship over an adult. You, as the conservator, would be fully responsible to make decisions for the conservatee on their behalf (though the scope of power will depend on the type of conservatorship that is granted).

A conservatorship is a legal agreement based on a good faith judgment made by social workers and/or doctors familiar with the case. The courts decide on these cases based on what is in the best interest of your loved one (the conservatee).

How Long Does a Conservatorship Last?

There are different durations available for conservatorships. Because the most common use case for a conservatorship is an elderly person who has lost the ability to maintain autonomy, most conservatorships are permanent. With that said, not all conservatorships are permanent arrangements. 

There are short-term conservatorships that usually last 90 days or fewer (used in the event of a sudden or unexpected/temporary incapacity), and temporary conservatorships that will exist for a limited window of time (usually a year or less). Temporary conservatorships can also be conditional in other ways (for example, set to end after someone awakens from a coma).

What are the Types of Conservatorships?

There are a few different reasons that you, your family, doctors, or social workers would consider a conservator relationship. Those reasons translate into the different types of conservatorships, as you’ll see below:

Limited financial conservatorship

A financial conservatorship can be put in place to protect an adult’s assets and finances. This would be done in the event of temporary incapacitation, for example. When under a financial conservatorship, the guardian needs to sign off on any transactions that involve their money, property, other assets, or investments.

General probate conservatorship

A general conservatorship is one of the most common types of conservatorships. It is also the strictest on the conservatee’s life. In a general conservatorship, the conservator has control over the finances, health, life (such as their living arrangements), and more of the conservatee.

Limited probate conservatorship

Because conservatorships are so intrusive to the conservatee’s autonomy, when possible, a social worker or doctor may recommend a limited conservatorship. This would be used when possible to allow the adult under supervision to retain some autonomy.

Why Would Someone Want a Conservatorship? In What Situations are Conservatorships Used?

A conservatorship is clearly a pretty aggressive option. In any case, where it is possible, a power of attorney can usually accomplish the same things. The difference is that a power of attorney is initiated (and can be revoked) by the individual themselves, whereas a conservatorship is initiated on their behalf (and cannot be self-revoked).

In any case, a conservatorship would be granted when the individual cannot make decisions on their own behalf. This is typically done for mental incapacitation, not physical incapacitation. Some examples include a coma where the individual is completely incapable of response, incapacitation due to injury (such as a car accident), late-stage Alzheimer’s, or another form of dementia that has progressed to the point that clear intent can no longer be determined.

The bottom line is that the individual in question needs to be incapable of communicating their needs or expressing their intent on their own behalf. If the individual is still capable of managing their affairs, even if you strongly disagree with them and their choices, a conservatorship should not be granted.

How to Get a Conservatorship

Conservatorships are legal arrangements, so their implementation is typically handled in the courts or a local government agency. You will need to present medical recommendations and paperwork that support the request for a conservatorship, and the individual in question, (if able), will be allowed to present a counterargument against the conservatorship.

According to the California courts, any of these individuals can apply for a conservatorship:

  • The spouse or domestic partner of the proposed conservatee;
  • A relative of the proposed conservatee;
  • Any interested state or local entity or agency; 
  • Any other interested person or friend of the proposed conservatee; and
  • The proposed conservatee, himself or herself.

Click here for a printable PDF with the information you’ll need to proceed with a conservatorship in California.

Closing Thoughts

In the event that you feel that you or a loved one may be in need of a conservatorship, it’s important to talk to a financial planner, legal advisor, and/or your team of medical professionals. There are steps you can take in advance of a conservatorship, such as putting together a living will, a power of attorney, and other advanced directives that may help avoid this escalation.

If you’re providing care to a loved one, we hope you found some information that will help your financial situation. To get more information about compensation or other resources available to California caregivers, contact us at the California Caregiver Resource Center nearest to you or join CareNav today.

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