Limited Conservatorships

Limited Conservatorships

In the State of California, when an adult—or a minor approaching their 18th birthday—has significant developmental disabilities that leaves them unable to provide for their own care, a judge to appoint someone to be responsible for the disabled person. This arrangement is known as a limited conservatorship.

There are two types of limited conservatorship:

  • A limited conservatorship of the person makes a conservator legally responsible for taking care of the conservatee’s daily needs.
  • A limited conservatorship of the estate grants the conservator the right to control the conservatee’s financial matters, such as collecting income, paying bills, and so on.

Essentially, a conservator has legal rights over a conservatee that are similar to those a parent would have over their minor child.

Who is eligible to be a limited conservatee?

For a petitioner to be appointed as a limited conservator of a disabled person, the disabled person in question must have a developmental disability that began before the age of 18. The disability must cause profound intellectual incapacity, or be a physical disability that requires care similar to what would be necessary for someone with an intellectual disability.

A would-be conservatee cannot simply be labeled as being disabled by the conservator. The ability to diagnose a developmental disability requiring a limited conservatorship is granted by the State of California to medical specialists at the state’s many regional renters.

A disabled person must be referred for evaluation to their local regional center, and if the specialists there identify them as having severe, chronic disabilities that present significant impairments, then they will be diagnosed as developmentally disabled, nd thus be eligible for limited conservatorship.

The powers of a limited conservator vary, depending on the conservatee’s level of impairment.

While a conservator is granted the right to make decisions on behalf of the conservatee, in the case of a limited conservatorship, the goal is to allow the conservatee as much freedom as possible. This is because most disabled persons still have the capacity to do many things on their own. Thus, limited conservatorships are designed to give the disabled the latitude to act of their own accord where they are able to do so, and only grant limited legal rights to a conservator where absolutely necessary.

Generally speaking, a limited conservator’s legal responsibilities fall under the umbrella of providing the basic necessities of life: shelter, food, clothing, and overall well-being (mentally, physically, and emotionally). Being accorded legal powers that exceed this is situationally dependent.

There are seven powers that can be granted to a conservator under a limited conservatorship of the person.

These powers must be granted on an individual basis, and only as needed. These legal powers include the right to:

  1. Choose where the conservatee lives.
  2. Choose how and where the conservatee will be educated.
  3. Access the conservatee’s confidential records.
  4. Make medical decisions.
  5. Determine whether a given relationship—whether platonic or intimate—is allowable.
  6. Allow or block a marriage.
  7. Sign contracts on behalf of the conservatee.

Obviously, granting any of these rights to a conservator in turn strips the conservatee of significant, constitutionally protected rights. This is why they are granted on an individual basis, and only as necessary.

For instance, consider a person who has cerebral palsy, a disorder that causes severe impairment of movement and coordination. While people with cerebral palsy may have difficulties walking, using their arms, or even talking, they retain their full mental faculties—an adult with CP has the intellectual capacity of a normal adult. Thus, the parent of a child with CP might be granted the right to choose where their child lives, where and how they go to college, and so on, it might very well be the case that a judge will not grant the right for that parent to make medical decisions or to interfere in their child’s personal relationships.

This State of California is very cautious about granting limited conservatorships, as it’s a legal balancing act between ensuring the well-being of a vulnerable disabled person, and not unduly depriving an adult of the right to live an independent life.