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When is a California Conservatorship Necessary?

If you have a family member who is unable to care for him or herself, it may be necessary to seek a conservatorship for that person. A conservator is someone appointed by a probate court to manage the personal or financial affairs of another person (the conservatee). In California there are several different types of conservatorships. For example, a conservator of the estate exercises control over the conservatee’s assets and finances, while a conservator of the person makes decisions regarding the conervatee’s health care, living arrangements, and other basic needs.

Court Appoints Conservator Due to Spouse’s Irresponsibility

While California conservatorships are often associated with elderly relatives with dementia or physical disabilities, in truth a conservatee can be someone of any age and condition. For example, in a recent California case, a probate court created a conservatorship for a woman in her early 30s due, among other things, her ongoing substance abuse problems. Although the woman is married, the court named her aunt as conservator.

The conservatee suffered a near-fatal drug overdose four years ago. According to court records, the overdose deprived her brain of oxygen, producing “physical and mental impairments.” The conservatee has a long-term partner, who apparently also has substance abuse issues.

The conservatee inherited a substantial sum of money from her late mother’s probate estate. Shortly afterwards, the conservatee and her partner married. The conservatee also signed a California Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care naming her husband as her agent.

In 2014, the conservatee’s aunt petitioned the probate court to appoint a conservator. The husband hired an attorney to oppose the conservatorship. During court proceedings, evidence established the husband had misspent much of the conservatee’s money, including $14,000 in disability benefits that he spent on a “road trip.” A medical expert testified the husband did not obtain appropriate and necessary medical care for the conservatee, including a speech therapist. The expert also said the conservatee lacked the ability to make medical decisions for herself due to memory problems.

All parties agreed a conservatorship of the estate was necessary under the circumstances, but the conservatee opposed a conservatorship of the person. A trial was held before a probate judge on the latter issue, who ultimately appointed the aunt as conservator, noting the consevatee’s husband “doesn’t have the capability to be a decision maker with his wife.” The conservatee appealed on a procedural issue–the judge failed to inform her she had the right to a jury trial, which her attorney had waived–but the California Second District Court of Appeal said this “harmless error” did not substantively affect her rights under California law.

Need Help From a California Conservatorship Lawyer?

In many cases a conservatorship can be avoided through proper estate planning. But if, in the case above, a person names an agent who is unsuitable for the role, it may be necessary for a relative or other interested party to step in and seek a conservatorship. If you need advice from an experienced San Diego estate planning attorney on whether a conservatorship may be appropriate for a given situation, contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady today.

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