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Can a Court Force Me into a Conservatorship if I Have a Mental Disability?

A conservatorship exists whenever a California probate court determines that a person is not capable of taking care of him or herself or managing his or her finances. In the case of an individual who suffers from a mental disorder, a court may order what is known as an LPS conservatorship if there is sufficient evidence that the person is “gravely disabled,” and “unable to provide for his or her basic personal needs for food, clothing, or shelter.” But merely having a mental illness does not, in an and of itself, justify imposing a conservatorship against a person’s will.

Court Reverses “Close Call” Conservatorship Order

A California appeals court recently addressed the type of evidence necessary to create an LPS conservatorship for an individual with a mental disorder. The subject of this case is a man suffering from schizophrenia. He had been hospitalized multiple times over the years and has been required to take psychiatric medications since he was a child.

The conservatorship case began after the man, who was homeless, was “hospitalized after bystanders who saw him near or on a bridge…became concerned and called police.” A public guardian then filed a petition to establish a conservatorship for the purpose of forcing the man into a “locked facility.” At a probate court hearing, the principal witness for the public guardian was a medical expert who spent about an hour interviewing the man.

To rebut the public guardian’s case, a longtime friend of the man testified that he planned to help him get off the streets. The man had been living with him “off and on for about a year” and his mental disability had not been a problem. There was no evidence presented that suggested the man had any violent or harmful tendencies. Indeed, he was aware of his schizophrenia—that he had “voices in his head” that were not real—and that he could control it through medication. The man had a regular income from Social Security, and his friend planned to help him with daily activities such as buying groceries.

The probate court said that was not good enough and appointed the public guardian as the man’s conservator. But the man appealed, and the California First District Court of Appeal agreed there was insufficient evidence to justify the conservatorship. In a published opinion, the appeals court noted “this is a close case,” and if the man lived on his own without any assistance, that would probably justify a conservatorship. But given the “offer of third party of assistance by the appellant’s friend” and the man’s awareness of his mental condition, that tilted the scales in his favor. While the man might still benefit from a conservatorship, the appeals court noted such it could simply not be forced upon someone given “the magnitude of the deprivation of liberty it imposes.”

Estate Planning Can Help Avoid a Conservatorship

If you are concerned about a scenario in which you may be forced into a conservatorship due to a mental or physical disability, the best thing you can do is speak with a San Diego estate planning lawyer. There are ways to establish a voluntary plan for dealing with your incapacity, such as signing an Advance Health Care Directive and a General Durable Financial Power of Attorney. Contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady today if you would like to talk about this or any other estate planning matter.

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