In California, a legal guardianship for an adult is called a conservatorship and can only be established by an order of the probate court. A conservator is appointed for another adult when the probate court concludes that the adult, or conservatee, cannot manage his finances and personal affairs. In 2006, California enacted legislation that extensively revamped how conservatorships are established and administered.
California law provides for the appointment of a Conservatorship of the Person, a Conservatorship of the Estate, or both. A Conservatorship of the Person is established when an adult is unable to care for his personal needs, such as maintaining regular hygiene and taking prescribed medication. The conservator is charged with protecting the adult by ensuring that his daily needs health care are adequately met. A Conservatorship of the Estate is established when an adult cannot handle financial matters so a conservator is necessary to manage his income and pay bills. In most cases, the court will appoint the same conservator to be responsible for the adult's person and estate if both roles are required.
Full and Limited Conservatorships
In California, the probate court is authorized to appoint a conservator with full powers over the adult or to limit those powers in specific ways. The appointment of a conservator with full powers is typical in the case of an elderly person suffering from dementia who cannot provide for his own daily care or manage his finances. A limited conservatorship is normally established for an adult with some form of developmental disability, but who is capable of performing many tasks unsupervised. In this case, the probate court's order will specifically specify the conservator's limited powers, such as deciding where the conservatee will live, his vocation or educational training and signing contracts.
California law also provides for a special type of conservatorship known as an LPS Conservatorship. The name LPS is an abbreviation for legislation -- the Lanterman, Petris and Short Act -- that authorizes conservatorships specifically for adults who are diagnosed with a serious mental illness according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, such as schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder and bi-polar disorder. The probate court will establish an LPS Conservatorship only if it finds beyond a reasonable doubt that the proposed conservatee suffers a serious mental illness based on an evaluation by a psychiatrist authorized to do LPS evaluations.
In 2006, a statewide Probate Conservatorship Task Force was formed by the California Supreme Court Chief Justice in response to an article in the Los Angeles Times that exposed the deficiencies in how conservatorships were administered in California. Among the changes is the expansion of the duties of court investigators to include more frequent contact with the conservatee in order to provide a neutral opinion to the probate court regarding the necessity of the conservatorship. The new laws also increased the probate court's oversight authority for disposal of a conservatee's assets, such as the sale of a private residence, and decisions regarding moving a conservatee to a new residence.