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In a conservatorship, a person is appointed by a judge to organize and take care of another person’s financial or personal needs. The person who is appointed to take care of a person’s affairs is called a conservator, and the person being taken care of is called the conservatee.

A conservator is appointed usually when someone who does not have power of attorney for health care or durable power of attorney for financial matters cannot take care of their personal care of finances. There can be several kinds of conservatorships, but commonly there is conservatorship of the person and conservatorship of the estate.

Conservatorship of the person is for when a person cannot provide for their personal health, food, clothing, or shelter. A judge appoints a conservator to assist them, and also limits the powers given to the conservator to appropriately meet the needs of the conservatee. For instance, the conservatee still has the right to get married, vote, consent to medical treatment, or make a will, unless the judge decides otherwise.

In conservatorship of the state, a judge appoints a person to help someone take care of their financial matters. In California, a judge can appoint a conservator for someone who is “substantially unable to manage his or her financial resources or resist fraud or undue influence.” A person who occasionally shows negligence will not be appointed a conservator, rather, they would have to show that they are consistently unfit to manage their own finances.

In conservatorship of the state, the conservatee does not have the legal capacity to enter into any transactions that affect their financial situation, including making a contract, incurring debt, or making a gift. The conservatee will still have the right to enter into transactions that provide for the necessaries of life, and the right to make a will. The court can alter the conservatee’s power to enter into transactions depending on the conservatee’s status.

To establish a conservatorship, someone needs to file a petition asking the judge for a conservator, which can be either the potential conservatee, the potential conservatee’s spouse, a relative of the potential conservatee, any interested state or local entity, or any other interested party.

The conservator can be a family member, a friend, a private professional conservator, or even an organization. In California, nonprofit charitable corporations can sometimes be conservators. Trust companies can also sometimes be conservators, though only conservators of the estate. If a person needs a conservator but does not have any appropriate friends or family members, the court can appoint a county agency called the Public Guardian.

The conservator’s main priority is making sure the needs of the conservatee are met. Duties of the conservator of the person may include:

  • Determining the conservatee’s living arrangements
  • Providing for the conservatee’s needs for food, clothing, and health care
  • Coordinating with a conservator of the estate

In a conservatorship of the estate, the conservator’s duties may include:

  • Filing an inventory of the conservatee’s assets with the court
  • Paying the conservatee’s bills
  • Making appropriate investments
  • Applying for benefits
  • Keeping financial records with the court

In general, a conservatorship can be time consuming and expensive. Often it can be avoided altogether by having a power of attorney for health care and durable power of attorney for financial matters, before the person becomes incapable.