You might get that dreaded 3am phone call.  It’s never good news. Your parent, spouse or partner has finally succumbed to dementia or another debilitating illness, or your child has been in an accident that has left them incapacitated. After getting your loved one stabilized, you are told by doctors that normal functioning may be a long way off. Now what?

A conservatorship allows an individual or organization to make critical decisions regarding the financial matters and/or medical needs of a person who is unable to make those decisions or care for themselves. In California, a conservator is appointed and approved by the court, and he/she is responsible for acting in the best interest of the conservatee.

Conservatorship Appointments

The following is a brief description of the four different conservatorship appointments:

  • Estate. Allows the conservator to manage the finances of the conservatee (ie: the conservator can help manage the finances of an elderly parent who is unable to pay bills or make financial decisions).
  • Person. Allows the conservator to make medical care and living decisions (ie: the conservator can help move their elderly parent to a skilled care facility where they can get the help they need).
  • Limited conservatorship. Allows conservator to make certain decisions for the conservatee (the parents of an adult disabled child can help with important decisions, financial, etc., while still allowing the child the            authority to make other decisions, such as work and living arrangements).
  • Joint conservatorship. Allows two or more people to be named as conservators for one conservatee.

Steps to take

The conservatorship appointment process in California can be onerous, time-consuming, confusing and expensive.  It generally involves the following:

  • Filing the Petition. The petition must include information about the proposed conservator and conservatee, relatives, and the petitioner (the person filing the case in court), and the reasons why a conservatorship is necessary. It must also explain why the possible alternatives to a conservatorship are not available in this case.
  • Informing the conservatee and relatives. The petitioner must have someone else personally deliver a citation and a copy of the petition to the proposed conservatee and mail a written notice about the court hearing on the conservatorship petition, together with a copy of the petition, to the conservatee’s spouse or domestic partner and close relatives.
  • Investigation by a court investigator. A court investigator will talk to the proposed conservatee and others who may be familiar with the conservatee’s condition. The court will assess the conservatee’s estate for the cost of this investigation unless the court decides that the assessment would be a hardship for the conservatee.
  • Hearing. The proposed conservatee must go to the hearing unless he or she is excused because of illness. At the hearing, a judge will determine if everyone has been properly notified and if a lawyer needs to be appointed to represent the proposed conservatee. Once the judge is ready to make a decision, he or she may grant or deny the conservatorship. If the judge grants the petition, an order appointing the conservator will be filed and Letters of Conservatorship will be issued.


Conservatorships are a critical tool for caring for friend and family members who are in need, but it is important to weigh your options and consult with an experienced attorney before filing a petition with the court. Attorneys with the Gehres Law Library are here to help and can provide the guidance you need during the difficult and emotional process. Schedule your free phone consultation today.