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The Legal Department articles are not intended to serve as legal advice and are offered for educational purposes only. The information provided should not be used as a substitute for independent legal advice and it is not intended to address every situation that could potentially arise. Please be aware that laws, regulations and technical standards change over time. As a result, it is important to verify and update any reference or information that is provided in the article.
CAMFT staff attorney Sara Jasper, JD, guides therapists through the ins and outs of conservatorships by reviewing the various types of conservatorships as well as the duties of different types of conservators.
Sara Jasper, JD
Generally, adults in the United States are thought to be capable of caring for themselves and managing their own finances. There are, however, situations that lead judges to render persons incompetent. In the state of California, legal arrangements, known as conservatorships, are established for those who are considered incompetent.
Therapists working with conservatees should have a basic understanding of the parties involved in conservatorships and be aware of those parties’ rights and responsibilities. Providers can often achieve this understanding by requesting and reviewing a copy of the court order appointing the conservator and the letters of conservatorship. These documents will explain the conservator’s authority to act on the conservatee’s behalf. This article will help orient therapists to the ins and outs of conservatorships by reviewing the different types of conservatorships as well as the duties of the different types of conservators.
Duties of Therapists Working with Conservatees
Therapists working with a conservatee should, first and foremost, obtain a copy of any documentation related to the conservatorship. The court order appointing the conservator as the Letters of Conservatorship will explain what authority the conservator has to act on the conservatee’s behalf.1
Therapists should ascertain who has the legal authority to make decisions regarding consent for mental health decisions and who has the legal authority to authorize the release of the client’s confidential information.
Types of Conservatorships
In California, conservatorships are either based on the State’s probate code or on the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act. Probate conservatorships may be in the form of a general conservatorship or a limited conservatorship. General conservatorships are arranged for adults who cannot care for themselves or their finances. Limited conservatorships are arranged for adults with developmental disabilities who need some assistance caring for themselves and their finances.
Lanterman-Petris-Short conservatorships, also called LPS or mental health conservatorships, are ordered for people with behavioral health disorders that render them unable to meet their own basic needs. As a result of mental health conservatorships, conservatees are given a place to live and receive treatment for their psychiatric disorders. Since these conservatorships can involve a person being confined to a locked psychiatric facility, doctors and hospitals are required to follow specific laws and legal procedures when initiating this type of conservatorship. Neither family members nor other parties can begin a mental health conservatorship.2
In cases where a conservator is needed immediately for any of the conservatorships mentioned above, a court may appoint a temporary conservator until a general conservator is selected. A temporary conservatorship can last up to 30 days. During this timeframe, the conservator is charged with managing the conservatee’s finances and property as well as with arranging for the conservatee’s care, protection, and support.
Types of Probate Conservators
Whether dealing with either a general conservatorship or a limited conservatorship situation, therapists working with a probate conservatee and conservator must understand that probate courts appoint conservators for a person, for a person’s estate, or both. A probate conservator of a person ensures that the conservatee has the food, clothing, shelter and health care he or she requires. This type of conservator may be responsible for making critical medical decisions on behalf of the conservatee. A probate conservator of an estate handles a conservatee’s finances. This may involve collecting the conservatee’s income and paying the conservatee’s bills. Therapists should not assume a client’s probate personal conservator has control over that client’s estate. The conservator must have been appointed by the probate court as conservator of both the client and his/or her estate for that conservator to have authority over the client’s financial matters. As a best practice, therapists working with conservatees should request a copy of any documentation related to the conservatorship.
General Conservator Duties - General
conservators may be responsible for the conservatee and/or the conservatee’s estate and therefore may have the authority to do the following:
Since a primary duty of limited conservators is to support conservatees’ independence and self-reliance, these conservators must also work to obtain treatment, services, and opportunities that will foster the conservatee’s independence.
LPS/Mental Health Conservator Duties An LPS conservator may have the authority to care for and protect the conservatee’s personal as well as financial well-being. This means the court may grant this type of conservator the authority to do the following:
This article covers the information therapists will need to work with conservatees and their conservators. While therapists may understandably be curious about other issues related to conservatorships such as the conservatorship court process, the role of the court investigator in making conservatorship determinations and how to end conservatorships, it is important to remember these issues are likely tangential to the therapeutic relationship. Therefore, therapists would be wise to proceed with caution in regard to these issues and refrain from becoming involved with aspects of their clients’ conservatorships that may cause them to be accused of practicing outside of the scope and/ or entering into a dual relationship with their clients. For more information about the types of conservatorships discussed in this article, visit the California Courts Self-Help Center at https://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp.htm.
Sara Jasper, JD, CAE, is a staff attorney for CAMFT. Sara is available to answer member calls regarding legal, ethical, and licensure issues.
1 Cal. Evidence Code Section 1013
2 Professionals who believe a mental health conservatorship may be necessary must contact their county›s Public Guardian or Public Conservator who will investigate the case and make a preliminary determination regarding the need for an LPS conservatorship.
This article is not intended to serve as legal advice and is offered for educational purposes only. The information provided should not be used as a substitute for independent legal advice and it is not intended to address every situation that could potentially arise. Please be aware that laws, regulations and technical standards change over time. As a result, it is important to verify and update any reference or information that is provided in this article.