Legal Guardianship for an Adult in California

By Joe Stone

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.

Conservatorship Basics

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.

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LPS Conservatorship

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.

Court Oversight

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.

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The Difference in Probate & Family Court Guardianship

Probate court handles issues relating to estate administration and the distribution of assets after death. Under Article V of the Uniform Probate Code, a probate court can also appoint guardians of minors and incapacitated persons. Family courts, which are governed by state and local laws, deal with matters relating to family law. In certain jurisdictions, this court also has authority to appoint guardianships. There are, however, minor differences in probate and family court guardianships.

What Are the Responsibilities of a Temporary Guardian?

A temporary guardian's job is to provide short-term care for an individual referred to as a ward. Wards may be minor children or adults suffering from physical, emotional or mental limitations. Generally, a court appoints a temporary guardian. For example, if an adult has no close family members and suffers an incapacitating stroke, a probate judge has the power to quickly appoint a temporary guardian so as not to delay the patient's critical care decisions. The lengths of appointments and legal oversights for temporary guardians vary based on state laws. For example, in Maine, appointments expire after 6 months. In Oregon, appointments expire in 30 days, but may be extended 30 more days upon a showing of good cause.

Naming a Guardian in Kansas

A legal guardian is a party appointed by a court to care for a minor child or an impaired adult, known as the ward. State law governs guardianship; Kansas guardianship law sets forth comprehensive procedures for naming a guardian. The Kansas state government established the Kansas Guardianship Program to provide guardians for adults who cannot otherwise find guardians.

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