A conservatorship is a court case where a judge appoints a responsible person or organization (called the “conservator”) to care for another adult (called the “conservatee”) who cannot care for himself or herself or manage his or her own finances.
There are various types of conservatorships depending on the needs of the conservatee:
1. Probate Conservatorships
These conservatorships are based on the laws in the California Probate Code. They are the most common type of conservatorship. Probate conservatorships can be:
When a conservatorship is needed right away, the court may appoint a temporary conservator until a general conservator can be appointed. The request must be filed as part of a general conservatorship case, and can be filed either at the same time or soon after the general conservatorship case is opened with the court. The main duties of a temporary conservator are arranging for the temporary care, protection, and support of the conservatee, and protecting the conservatee’s finances and property.
2. Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Conservatorships
LPS conservatorships are used to care for adults with serious mental health illnesses who need special care. These conservatorships are used for people who usually need very restrictive living arrangements (like living in locked facilities) and require extensive mental health treatment (like very powerful drugs to control behavior). Conservatees in LPS conservatorships cannot or will not agree to the special living arrangements or treatment on their own. LPS conservatorships must be started by a local government agency. If you believe that this is the type of help the adult needs, contact your local county Public Guardian or Public Conservator. The information on this Online Self-Help Center does not apply to LPS conservatorships.
The probate court can appoint a conservator of the person, a conservator of the estate, or both, depending on the needs of the conservatee.
Being appointed conservator of the person does NOT automatically make that person the conservator of the estate. If someone wants to be conservator of both, the person and the estate, he or she must petition to be appointed as both. If someone is a conservator of the person and later decides that he or she needs to be appointed as conservator of the estate, he or she can file a new petition for conservatorship and, this time, request to be appointed as conservator of the estate.
The duties of a conservator of the person are to:
The duties of a conservator of the estate are to:
Read the Handbook for Conservators to learn more about conservatorships.
There are a number of people who can file for a conservatorship:
In appointing a conservator, the court is guided by the best interests of the conservatee. If the proposed conservatee has nominated someone (and the proposed conservatee has the mental and physical ability to express his or her preference), the court will appoint that person as conservator unless it is NOT in the proposed conservatee’s best interests.
If the proposed conservatee has not or cannot nominate anyone, the law provides a list of preferences that the court generally follows when the court determines whether all these persons are qualified to serve as a conservator.The order of preference is:
If the person closest to the top of the list does not want to be conservator, he or she can nominate someone else.
In the end, regardless of this order of preference, the selection of the conservator is up to the judge, and the judge makes this decision by considering the best interests of the proposed conservatee.
If you know someone who needs help and probably needs a conservator, but there is no suitable family friend or relative that can be the conservator, do some research to find a private professional fiduciary to act as conservator. Professional fiduciaries charge fees, but the court must approve in advance all fees paid by the person to be helped. If the person who needs help cannot pay these fees, contact your county’s Public Guardian or Public Conservator by searching online for "public guardian" and your county's name or looking in the government pages of your telephone book. There may be fees charged, but they are usually less than the fees requested by a professional fiduciary. They have experienced personal conservators and property administrators who can serve as conservator. If you are not eligible to use the Public Guardian’s services, contact your county’s Department of Aging.
You can also call the:
You must be sure that establishing a conservatorship is the only way to meet the person’s needs. If there is another way, an alternative to the conservatorship, the court may not grant your petition.
You may not need a conservatorship if the person who needs help:
Some alternatives to a conservatorship
For Medical and Personal Care Decisions:
For Financial Decisions:
Setting up a conservatorship is a long and complex process. Before asking the court to appoint a conservator, the person asking for the conservatorship should be sure this is an appropriate arrangement for the proposed conservatee.
If a judge grants the conservatorship
The conservator must purchase a copy of the Handbook for Conservators from the court or download it at the link provided.
He or she can then assume the powers authorized under the law. Also, the conservator of the person, conservator of the estate, and limited conservator of the estate must attend the training for conservators offered by the court. Each conservator will have the ongoing duty to report to the court for regular reviews and to meet with the court investigator.
The court investigator gives neutral information about the case to the judge.
The investigator will call the proposed conservator and set up a visit with him or her and the proposed conservatee. Sometimes, he or she will meet with both more than once. The investigator must also interview relatives of the proposed conservatee.
The court wants the investigator to:
Once a conservator is appointed, the court investigator stays involved. Six months after the appointment, the investigator will review the case to make sure the conservator is fulfilling his or her responsibilities as conservator and that the conservatee’s rights are being upheld. The investigator will review the case again in another 6 months and at the end of each 12-month period after that.
If the investigator thinks the conservator is acting in the best interests of the conservatee and the court agrees, the court can reduce the scope of the reports the investigator must write and file in later reviews, but the investigator must make a personal visit and interview the conservatee and must prepare and file at least a short status report every year after the first year. The court may order additional reviews as necessary or helpful to protect the conservatee.
If the investigator thinks there may be a problem after one of these reviews, he or she may ask the judge to appoint a lawyer for the conservatee. This may start the legal process to sanction or remove the conservator and either appoint someone else as successor conservator or end the conservatorship.
The investigator will also visit the conservatee and make a report if:
The court investigator will explain these situations to the conservatee. He or she will then make recommendations to the court in a written report that will also be mailed to the conservator, the conservatee’s attorney, and his or her spouse or domestic partner and other close relatives.
A judge may appoint a temporary conservator to take care of a conservatee’s more immediate needs that cannot wait until a general conservator is appointed. A temporary conservator may also be appointed by the court to fill in temporarily in between permanent conservatorships, for example, if one conservator is removed and a new one has not yet been appointed.
Temporary conservatorships have a specific end date. A temporary conservator is usually appointed for a fixed time period, usually 30 to 60 days. These conservatorships can be of the person, of the estate, or both. The main role of the temporary conservator is to ensure the temporary care, protection, and support of the conservatee. And the temporary conservator of the estate protects the conservatee’s finances and property from any loss or damage until a general conservator can take over the management of the estate.
A temporary conservator cannot, without the judge’s prior approval:
To ask for the appointment of a temporary conservator, the request must be made as part of a general conservatorship court case.
A conservatorship is usually a permanent arrangement. But, in certain cases, a conservatorship may be ended or the conservator may be changed.
When a conservator is removed or resigns, or the conservatorship ends, the conservator will be released from his or her duties, but only after he or she wraps things up and provides the court the needed information or documents to either transfer the case to a new conservator or end the conservatorship. For conservatorships of the estate, the conservator will have to turn in a final accounting.
In California, people with developmental disabilities have a right to services they need to live independent, productive, normal lives. The state must provide services for each person with a developmental disability at each stage of his or her life, regardless of age or the degree of the disability. These state services are provided through the regional centers, which are nonprofit corporations that have contracts with the California Department of Developmental Services to serve people with developmental disabilities.
The services provided through Regional Centers are available to persons with developmentally disabilities whether they are under a general conservatorship, a limited conservatorship, or no conservatorship at all.
Find a directory of regional centers in California.
Get more information on regional centers and the California Department of Developmental Services.
A limited conservatorship is a court case where a judge gives a responsible person (called a “limited conservator”) certain rights to care for another adult who has a developmental disability (called a “limited conservatee”).
Limited conservatorships are for adults with developmental disabilities. Developmental disability refers to a severe and chronic disability due to a mental or physical impairment that started before age 18. Limited conservatorships are set up to assist developmentally disabled adults who are unable to provide for all their personal or financial needs.
As with general conservatorships, there are two kinds of limited conservatorships:
You do not need a conservatorship of the estate if:
But you need a conservatorship of the estate if the developmentally disabled adult has other assets, such as an inheritance or a settlement from a lawsuit that is not in a special needs trust.
If a developmentally disabled minor will soon be 18, it is often a good idea to start the process of requesting a limited conservatorship a few months before the developmentally disabled person’s 18th birthday. But, keep in mind that a limited conservatorship can be established at any time after the person with the developmentally disability has reached age 18.
The Superior Court Probate Department will supervise the limited conservator. Someone from the court investigator’s office will review the case 1 year after the conservatorship is granted, then every 2 years after that. The investigator will call the conservator to update the court’s file. The investigator will also visit the conservatee.
Limited Conservator’s Duties
When someone is appointed as a limited conservator of a person who is developmentally disabled, the court can give the conservator limited responsibility for the person and their estate.
Duty to help develop the limited conservatee’s self-reliance
Overall, a limited conservator’s responsibility is to help the limited conservatee develop maximum self-reliance and independence. A limited conservator must get treatment, services, and opportunities to help the limited conservatee become as independent as possible. This can be:
To learn more about limited conservatorships, read the Handbook for Conservators.
A mental health (LPS) conservatorship makes one adult (called the “conservator”) responsible for a mentally ill adult (called the “conservatee”). LPS conservatorships MUST be started by a local government agency, usually a county’s Public Guardian or Public Conservator.
LPS conservatorships last for only 1 year. If they are needed longer than that, they must be restarted and the conservator must be reappointed by the court. The government agency may recommend that a family member of the conservatee be appointed as LPS conservator, but this happens usually only after the first year.
These conservatorships are only for adults who are gravely disabled as a result of a mental illness listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The most common mental illnesses are serious, biological brain disorders, like:
LPS conservatorships are not for people with organic brain disorders, brain trauma, developmental disability, alcohol or drug addiction, or dementia, unless they also have one of the serious mental illnesses listed in the DSM.
Duties and Responsibilities of an LPS Conservator
An LPS conservatorship gives legal authority to the conservator to make certain decisions for a conservatee who is unable to take care of himself or herself. If asked, the court can give an LPS conservator the duty to take care of and protect the conservatee (conservator of the person) and also the power to handle the financial matters of the conservatee (conservator of the estate).
The conservator can consent to mental health treatment even if the conservatee objects. The conservator can agree to the use of psychotropic (mind-altering) drugs. However, the conservatee may refuse to take them if he or she is determined to have enough mental ability to make this decision knowingly and with enough understanding of the consequences.
The conservator can agree to place the mentally ill person in a locked facility if a psychiatrist says it is needed and the hospital agrees to take the person, whether or not the conservatee agrees. The conservator can decide where the mentally ill person will live when he or she is not in a locked psychiatric facility.
The LPS conservator can also make financial decisions for the conservatee, like paying the bills and collecting his or her assets and income.
An LPS conservator must have enough medical and social information before making decisions for the conservatee. And the conservator must only take actions that are in the best interest of the conservatee.