In California, guardianship is for minors who the law considers unable to take care of themselves or their own interests. But those under 18 years old are not the only people in California who are adjudged unable to take care of themselves. Adults can also find themselves unable to manage their finances as they get older. Even before they are seniors, adults with temporary or permanent mental or physical disabilities may require regular assistance to navigate through the ordinary steps of life. A guardianship in California for an elderly person or other adult is termed a conservatorship.
Establishing a conservatorship is a formal legal proceeding that involves several steps, starting with filing a petition with the probate court, then attending a scheduled hearing.
Legal Guardianship for Adults
A legal guardianship for adults in California is called a conservatorship. The word "conservatorship" actually refers to the court case in which a judge appoints someone to take care of another adult. The person or organization chosen is also called a conservator, while the adult in need of assistance is called the conservatee who cannot care for himself or manage his own finances.
Types of Conservatorships in California
California law provides for several types of conservatorships, depending on the circumstances of the person requiring assistance. A court-appointed guardian for an elderly person is often a conservatorship of the person. That means that a conservator is appointed to make sure that the elderly person gets the medical care she needs, as well as proper nutrition and appropriate housing. The conservator of the person also must make sure that the senior in his charge gets social contact and recreation.
Another type of conservatorship in California is called conservatorship of the estate. This is when someone is appointed to look after the finances of the elderly person. A conservator of the estate collects the elderly person, pays her debts and manages her estate for her. If you are considering a legal guardianship of elderly parents, you may require one or both types of conservatorships.
Petitioning for Legal Guardianship for Adults
Establishing a conservatorship is a formal legal proceeding and involves several steps. A family member or friend who believes that an adult needs a conservatorship can file a petition with the probate court seeking to be appointed. You can seek to be appointed either conservator of the person or conservator of the estate, or both. However, appointment as one type of conservator does not automatically make you the other type. If you wish to be conservator of both the person and the estate, you must include that in your petition.
Ask at the probate court or look online for the appropriate packet of forms. The court will review your petition and hold a hearing to determine whether a conservator is required. It will also review your relationship to the person as well as information about you to determine whether you are an appropriate person to be appointed. If so, it will issue you letters of conservatorship.
Alternatives to Conservatorship
It's a great idea for adults in California to take steps to avoid a court-appointed conservator. Doing this involves preparing a power of attorney or setting up a trust that is effective in case of incompetence. If a person takes either of these steps, she can select a trusted family member or friend to make decisions for her if she becomes impaired. But setting up a trust or power of attorney must be undertaken while the person still has full mental capacity.