For an adult child, one of the most heart-wrenching decisions that may ever need to be made is the decision to pursue conservatorship over a parent. If you find yourself wrestling with this decision, you are likely dealing with conflicting emotions. For many adult children, the idea of becoming a parent’s conservator feels akin to taking away a parent’s autonomy and freedom. Keep in mind, however, that if you fail to act on your concerns right now, your parent could become the victim of elder abuse or fall prey to financial scams down the road. The conservatorship lawyers at Dennis M. Sandoval, A Professional Law Corporation offer guidance on making the decision to pursue conservatorship and explain the process once you decide to move forward.
What Is Conservatorship?
Conservatorship is a legal relationship whereby one adult (or organization) takes over the legal responsibility of making personal and health care decisions for, and/or managing the finances of, another adult who can no longer do so himself or herself. In the State of California, there are two primary types of conservators:
- Conservator of the person – a conservatorship of the person is used when the conservatee (person in need of assistance) cannot care for himself or herself. The conservator is responsible for making sure that the conservatee has proper food, clothing, shelter, and health care. The conservator may also need to make important decisions for the conservatee, such as where he or she will live, who the conservatee will interact with, what medical care will be authorized, and other decisions of a personal nature.
- Conservator of the estate – a conservatorship of the estate is used when the conservatee is inacapable of managing his or her financial affairs. The conservator may need to pay bills for the conservatee, manage assets, and make financial decisions for the conservatee.
You may petition to become the conservator of the person, the conservator of the estate, or both, depending on what your parent needs.
How Do I Know My Parent Needs a Conservator?
Deciding a parent needs a conservator is never simple nor is there an easy test that will tell you when the time has come to pursue conservatorship. There are, however, some signs that it might be time to think about petitioning for conservatorship over a parent, including:
- Slipping memory – beyond the normal age-related memory lapses.
- Disconnect notices, bills not paid – this can be a sign that dementia is beginning or progressing.
- Appointments missed – again, one or two may not be problematic but when a pattern emerges it could be a sign of dementia.
- Medications not taken – this can be extremely dangerous to your parent’s health.
- Funds dwindling, missing – your parent could be misplacing funds, overpaying for things, or someone could be scamming your parent.
Who Can File for Conservatorship?
In California, the following people can file for conservatorship over an adult:
- 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.
Sometimes, more than one person file competing petitions the court for conservatorship over the same individual. In that case, the court will always be guided by the best interest of the proposed conservatee. If the proposed conservatee has nominated someone and has the requisite mental capacity, the court will honor that request unless there is a good reason not to do so. Beyond that, if more than one person has petitioned to become the conservator, the order of preference is as follows:
- Spouse or domestic partner
- Adult child
- Any other person the law says is okay
- Public Guardian
What Is the Process for Becoming My Parent’s Conservator in California?
You must file a petition with the appropriate court to become your parent’s conservator. You will also need to notify your parent and close relatives that you are seeking conservatorship over your parent. Once the petition is filed and notification has been accomplished, a court investigator will initiate an investigation that includes talking to your parent and others who might be able to help decide if a conservator is needed. The court will also set the matter for a hearing at which you may present evidence backing up your claim that a conservator is needed. You will also need to convince the court that less restrictive alternatives to conservatorship will not be sufficient to prevent harm. The court then decides if a conservator is needed and, if so, whether you should be appointed. The entire process can be difficult, time-consuming, and emotional which is why it is in your best interest to work with an experienced conservatorship attorney.
Contact Riverside Conservatorship Attorneys
If you have additional questions or concerns about petitioning for conservatorship in California, or questions about obtaining government assistance to help pay for your parent’s long term care costs, contact the experienced California conservatorship attorneys at Dennis M. Sandoval, A Professional Law Corporation by calling (951) 888-1460 to schedule an appointment.