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Guardianship vs. Conservatorship in California

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During the pandemic, many of us watched I Care a Lot, the at-times horrifying Netflix thriller about a predatory professional guardian, Marla Grayson. Marla made a career out of petitioning friendly judges to grant her guardianship of elderly people who supposedly needed help managing their finances and physical well-being. With the help of an equally corrupt physician, Marla sought out independently wealthy seniors with no close family members. After sending her victims to elder-care facilities (managed by other people who were on the take), the film’s anti-hero would clean out the senior’s assets and make a nice profit. 

Many adults watched the film’s developments and fretted: “What if this happens to me?” Fortunately, the movie is not based on one crooked professional guardian with aspirations of expanding her brand across the world. Unfortunately, though, guardianship abuse happens. 

California law allows for both conservatorship and guardianship, depending on the age of the person needing help. Conservatorship is the arrangement where one adult is appointed to manage the affairs of another adult who is unable to care for themselves. Guardianship refers to the legal authority of adults to care for the finances and physical well-being of children.

Types of Conservatorships in California

A conservator has one of two jobs: managing the conservatee’s money and assets OR caring for the conservatee’s physical needs (like food, shelter, and medication). The latter is referred to as “conservator of the person”, and the former as “conservator of the estate”. One conservator may have both types of responsibilities. 

There are also general and limited conservatorships in California. General conservatorships are arrangements where the conservator has relatively broad power to care for the conservatee. Limited conservators are authorized to help conservatees with just a few things. Adults with developmental disabilities are typically able to take care of themselves to some extent; as a result, limited conservatorships are often geared towards these situations. General conservators usually look after adults with dementia and other conditions associated with aging. 

The Conservatorship Process

An interested party begins the conservatorship process by filing a petition with the appropriate court. Interested parties may be the conservatee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, sibling, relative, state or local agency, a friend of the conservatee, or any other interested party. The petition requires a wealth of information about the conservatee, conservator, and reasons for requesting a conservatorship. 

After the conservatee and his or her relatives have been served with the petition, a court investigator will assess the situation and determine whether or not the proposed conservatorship is in the best interests of the conservatee. After the investigation, the judge will schedule a court hearing to make a final decision. 

Estate Planning Can Help Avoid the Need for a Conservatorship

To clarify, the vast majority of conservatorships are administered and executed smoothly. The chances of your or a loved one’s getting taken advantage of through a fraudulent conservatorship are quite low. Still, making a power of attorney, health care proxy, advance health care directive, or other estate planning document could be a better arrangement for you and your loved ones. Conservatorships are often reactive, while estate planning is, by its nature, proactive
Anthoor Law Group helps individuals make estate plans that protect their assets and, ultimately, ensure their loved ones are taken care of in their absence. We can help provide you with peace of mind. Talk to us soon to set up a consultation.

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