By John L. Gordon

Getting older, while a fact of life, is no walk in the park.  More people than ever are wisely making an effort to maximize their golden years by taking good care of themselves, but sadly, sometimes stuff happens.  Among the most dreaded infirmities of old age is dementia, and if it affects a loved one, the entire family may feel helpless and frustrated.  It’s difficult to watch while someone demonstrates memory loss, confusion, speech and language difficulties, changes in behavior, or other alarming symptoms. While there’s no known cure for dementia, the good news is that there are some practical steps you can take to make life smoother for everyone involved.

The General Conservatorship

If your loved one didn’t sign powers of attorney for finances and health care while s/he still had the mental capacity to do so, a general conservatorship may now be the best choice.  There are two different types of general conservatorship that are used in the case of a person with diminished mental capacity.

1.         A conservator of the person is appointed to manage the individual’s personal needs such as food, clothing shelter, health care, and safety.

2.         A conservator of the estate is appointed to manage the individual’s financial matters to the extent that personal or real property will be wasted unless adequate management is provided.

Depending on the situation, your loved one may benefit from one or both of the above conservatorships.

When You Visit an Attorney

In preparing the Petition for Conservatorship, your attorney will probably discuss the following questions with you:

  • Is there an urgent need requiring the immediate appointment of a temporary conservator?  (Emergency surgery, a threat of some ill-intentioned person’s diverting your loved one’s assets, etc.)
  • Is your loved one agreeable to conservatorship?
  • Who is the best person to serve as conservator?  Is a professional conservator needed?
  • Are there other family members who object to conservatorship?
  • What assets does your loved one hold?  (Home, other real property, bank accounts, investments, business.)
  • What are his/her sources of income?
  • Can s/he live safely in his/her home?
  • What are his/her medical needs, including medications?

You should bring to your appointment any documents that show the need for conservatorship.  These may include photos of living conditions, copies of unpaid bills, copies of any previous estate-planning documents, names of prescribed medications, names and contact information of health & support care providers, family members, or friends who have information about your loved one’s inability to care for himself/herself and his/her estate.

The Next Step

Once your attorney has drafted and you’ve signed the appropriate conservatorship papers, they will be filed with the Court and a hearing date will be set approximately 6-8 weeks out.  A Court Investigator is assigned to gather information and file a written report with the court before the hearing date.  In most cases, the Court will also appoint a PVP (Probate Volunteer Panel) attorney to advocate for the proposed conservatee.  Barring objection, and if the Court  feels that the need exists, a conservator will be appointed at the scheduled hearing.  Thereafter, the conservator will be accountable to the Court for properly managing the conservatee’s affairs.  (For more about the conservator’s duties, see the “Handbook for Conservators,” published by The Judicial Council of California,

Although there are no simple solutions to dealing with dementia and its fallout, a general conservatorship can make things a little easier and a lot more secure at a time when you, your loved one, and the whole family needs all the help that’s available.

John L. Gordon is a partner at Driskell & Gordon.  His emphasis is on guardianships and conservatorships.  He has conducted seminars on special needs trusts for the developmentally disabled.  He serves as a Probate Volunteer Panel (PVP) Attorney for Los Angeles County.  He can be reached at Driskell & Gordon, 180 No. Glendora Ave., Suite 201, Glendora, CA  91741, (626) 914-7809,

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