A conservatorship is the appointment of a conservator by the court to manage a person’s affairs who is unable to handle them due to their mental capacity, age, or physical disability. The person under the conservatorship is referred to as “conservatee.”
A person who is unable to handle their financial affairs or daily life responsibilities will be considered incapacitated by the court, so the court will assign a conservator to make decisions on behalf of the person.
Conservatorships are governed differently in each state depending on their laws. California has two kinds of conservatorships a person can be under: 1) probate and 2) Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS). A probate conservatorship is for people who can’t handle their financial affairs and the LPS conservatorship is for people who are undergoing involuntary mental health treatment. In Conservatorship of Roulet, the California Supreme Court held that a jury must unanimously agree, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the conservatee is gravely disabled under the LPS Act as opposed to the jury only needing to apply the preponderance of the evidence instruction with 9/12 jurors in agreeance.
California Welfare and Institutions Code lays out the procedure for obtaining a conservatorship under each of their conservatorship options. But, in general the process of starting a conservatorship begins when a person petitions for the court to appoint a conservator to an individual. The court will examine factors such as the person’s finances, health condition, and the person’s wishes to determine whether the person is incapacitated and needs a conservator. The potential conservatee must receive notice that this petition has been filed with the court, so they are able to make their wishes known.
A judge may appoint a family member as the conservator or an independent party who has no relation to the conservatee. A judge may also choose to appoint a conservator and a guardian, where the conservator handles the conservatee’s financial affairs and the guardian handles the person’s physical and medical care. In some cases, the conservator and guardian can be the same person.
Conservators will be responsible for updating the court regularly on a financial accounting of the conservatee’s assets. This requirement acts as a safeguard to make sure the conservator does not take advantage of the conservatee while managing their finances. For any major decisions regarding the conservatee’s financial assets or medical care, the conservator will have to seek permission from the court before performing. An example of this would be the selling of the conservatee’s home.
Conservators are paid for their services through the conservatee’s assets, but the court will review these payments to make sure they are reasonable.
The conservatee or the conservatee’s relatives can ask for the conservator to be removed and replaced if the conservator is not performing their duties. They can also move to have a conservatorship removed if they feel the appointment is not necessary. Other ways a conservatorship can end include: 1) the conservatee dies and 2) the conservatee’s assets have been depleted.
In 2021, the conservatorship of Britney Spears received widespread media attention. Britney had been under a conservatorship for 13 years, despite people feeling she was not incapacitated. A detailed timeline of the history of Britney Spears’s conservatorship has been published by Hillary Hoffower on Insider.com.
[Last updated in July of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]