In the United States, there is a legal process known as a “conservatorship.” In California, it is mostly used for the elderly who are no longer able to take care of themselves. However, it can also be used for people of any age who are unable to help themselves. But what happens when someone is placed into a conservatorship? How does this happen, and what does it mean for the person under conservatorship?
What are conservatorships?
It’s estimated that 1.3 million Americans are currently under the control of a conservatorship, which is a legal arrangement in which someone else is appointed to manage another person’s finances and/or daily life. This can be people who are unable to make decisions for many reasons:
- Due to physical illness
- Due to injury
- Because of old age
- Mental illness
- Developmental disabilities
- Substance abuse
- Deemed incompetent by the court
The conservatorship system was designed to protect vulnerable adults from being taken advantage of by unscrupulous family members or caregivers.
However, what started as a well-intentioned system has morphed into something that is often used to exploit and control disabled and elderly adults. In many cases, conservators are appointed without the consent of the person who is supposed to be under their care. And once a conservatorship is in place, it can be very difficult for the person under conservatorship to regain control of their own life.
Once appointed, the conservator has the assignment of acting in the best interests of their conservatee. This includes managing the conservatee’s finances responsibly.
There are two types of conservatorships. The first type is limited conservatorships, in which the conservator has only those powers specifically granted by the court. The other type is a general conservatorship, in which the conservator has broad authority over the conservatee’s finances and daily life.
In most states, courts have the discretion to appoint either a family member or professional guardian as a conservator. In some states, courts must appoint a professional guardian if no suitable family members are available or willing to serve.
Courts typically require that efforts be made to exhaust all less restrictive alternatives before appointing a conservator.
Can be helpful or misused
While conservatorships can be helpful in some cases, they can also be abused, leading to the loss of freedom and autonomy for the person under control. If you’re considering a conservatorship for yourself or someone you know, it’s important to understand the potential risks and benefits before making any decisions.