As the elderly age, so does the need to assure their protection and welfare. Many will live their entire lives completely self sufficient and able to resist being taken advantage of. Others, either due to dementia or declining physical health, will need protection. While there are multiple ways to safeguard the welfare of our most vulnaerable elders, in some cases a conservatorship will be the best option.
In simple terms, a conservator is a person appointed by the court to make financial and personal decisions for another who needs protection (called the conservatee). The conservator is most typically a relative who is also the person asking the court (petitioning) to become the conservator. In some cases the conservator can be an independent, non-related person.
There are a number of statutory requirements that must be met in order for the court to impose a conservatorship because the conservatee's freedom is somewhat restricted when he or she is conserved. The proposed conservatee also has a right to contest the proceedings and can even demand a trial by jury. In certain circumstances, the proposed conservatee will be appointed a private attorney well versed in conservatorship law. Appointed counsel is typically compensated from the conservatee's assets after court approval, and must advocate not only what the conservatee's desires are, but also what may be in the conservatee's best interests.
There are two types of conservatorships: the person and the estate. The conservator of the person makes decisions related to placement (where the conservatee will live) and care, including medical decisions. The conservator of the estate handles the conservatee's finances, including bill paying. Since a conservatorship is a protective mechanism, the conservator is typically bonded and accountable to the court for all actions.
This is only a very broad overview of conservatorships in California. The only way you can be fully informed of the propriety of a conservatoship in your particular case is to discuss the facts with your legal professional.