Legal Guardianship for an Adult in California

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Legal Guardianship for an Adult in California

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

When an adult cannot take care of herself or handle her own financial affairs, a family member or other interested party can file for conservatorship with the court. When a California probate court appoints a conservator, that person has the authority to make decisions about, protect, and manage the other adult's personal care or finances. While some states' laws differentiate between guardianship of the person and authority over the person's finances, in California this responsibility can include either one or both types of assistance.

Young woman pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair through a garden

People Who May Need a Conservator

There are many reasons an adult may need this kind of care. For example, a young adult with mental or physical disabilities may be temporarily or permanently unable to manage their affairs.

In other cases, senior citizens may reach a point where they need additional help with everyday tasks. This could include managing their medications, balancing their checkbooks, or paying their bills.

Conservator of the Person vs. Conservator of the Estate

The adult who needs help is the conservatee. In California conservatorships, an individual may have authority over the conservatee's physical well-being, over their finances, or both.

If someone is given responsibility for another adult's person, they help by making decisions related to health care, nutrition, shelter, safety, comfort, and social needs. Someone in charge of another adult's estate helps manage that person's finances, including protecting assets, managing money, collecting income, paying bills, and accounting to the court.

Qualifying to Serve as a California Conservator

Almost any interested party can petition the court for appointment as conservator for another adult. However, the court grants priority to certain family members, in the following order:

  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Adult child
  • Parent
  • Sibling
  • Any other person

Decisions about this kind of appointment hinge on the best interests of the person who needs additional care. If this individual has the capacity to appoint a family member or other adult as their conservator, the court generally honors those requests unless there is a reason to believe it would not be in the conservatee's best interests to do so.

The petition to the court includes information about the proposed guardian, their relationship to the person who will receive care, and an explanation about why the filer requests conservatorship. Once appointed, these individuals must attend court-sponsored training and report to the court periodically.

Different Types of Conservatorships

When a California probate court appoints a conservator, they grant either limited power or general (broad) power. If an adult is able to manage some aspects of their own care but needs assistance, a limited conservatorship may be appropriate. General conservatorships give broad authority to a carer to help the person for whom they are responsible.

As with any type of court proceeding, these filings take time. However, if there is an immediate need to get help for an elderly person or for a younger adult with a disability, the court can issue a temporary conservatorship. This allows someone to care for an individual until the court appoints a general or limited conservator.

You may be able to avoid the need for conservatorship in California through careful estate planning and by preparing advance directives including financial and healthcare powers of attorney. As you begin to plan for old age, thoroughly research all of your options in order to determine what kind of documentation and care is right for you and your loved ones.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.