Apr. 16, 2014
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Conservators of Adults

In the United States, all adults are considered capable of handling their own affairs unless a Judge determines otherwise. In California, this legal arrangement is called a conservatorship.

Conservatorships are established for impaired adults, most often older people. Adults who are developmentally disabled or the victims of a catastrophic illness or accident also may have a conservatorship.

For help filling out the forms to file a conservatorship, please visit ACCESS.


When Conservatorship is Necessary

Establishing a conservatorship is a formal legal proceeding and involves several steps. Some adults who are concerned about possible future mental and physical incapacity decide to establish a power of attorney or a trust, in part so they can avoid the court action. They choose an individual or an institution to make decisions for them if they become impaired. These are private arrangements and must be made while the person has full mental capacity. In California, courts do not routinely monitor powers of attorney or trusts. Most people do not make these arrangements probably because it is difficult to think about becoming incapacitated mentally or physically. But it happens, especially to people over 75 years of age. For those who have not made prior arrangements, or if the person handling the power of attorney or trust is incapable or dishonest, a conservatorship may become necessary.

Conservatorship Scenarios

The following examples illustrate common situations in which the Court is requested to appoint a conservator.

Mrs. R., a disabled, blind 79 -year-old woman, was widowed after 53 years of marriage. The couple had no children. A few months after Mrs. R.'s husband died, a neighbor began helping her with grocery shopping. The neighbor got her name on the title to the house by getting Mrs. R. to sign papers under false circumstances. She told Mrs. R. that she had to sign papers in order to get home health care. Once the neighbor was on title to the house, she took several loans against the property and kept the money. Mrs. R. could not pay the new mortgages. She lost her home and had to move to a board and care home. The police found out about the neighbor's actions and she is now being criminally prosecuted. A conservator was appointed to help gather Mrs. R.'s remaining assets, to try to get her house back, to see if any of the stolen money could be recovered from the neighbor's assets, and to make sure that all her personal needs were met.
Example (click here):

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, most elder abuse and neglect in this country are committed by family members (http://www.elderabusecenter.org/). In the following situation, a grandson took advantage of his grandfather.

Mr. C., an 83 -year-old man, had moved from Louisiana to San Francisco during World War II to work in the shipyards. He married and had two children. His son died in an auto accident and his mentally disabled daughter lived with him and so did his daughter's son. His wife was in a nursing home. Mr. C. had an income from a pension and Social Security. He owned his home free and clear. Mr. C. was beginning to have memory problems and lose track of his financial affairs. His grandson developed a crack cocaine habit and permitted three friends to move into Mr. C.'s house. The house became known as a place for other addicts to buy drugs. Mr. C. and his daughter were terrorized by the young men and fearful for their lives. They were not permitted to leave the house except for medical appointments. On one doctor's visit, Mr. C. was found to be malnourished and losing weight. The doctor asked him what was going on in the household. Mr. C. was ashamed to reveal family secrets. Under questioning, he finally told the doctor that his grandson and his friends did not always provide food. The doctor made a confidential referral to Adult Protective Services who began visiting and providing food. Eventually a private professional conservator was appointed to help Mr. C. and his daughter with basic activities of daily living, maintaining the home, and handling financial affairs. In the meantime, the grandson was reported to the police for illegal activity, arrested, tried and convicted, and sent to prison.
Example (click here):

There are many other situations in which a conservatorship is filed. A catastrophic illness or accident can befell an adult of any age lead to mental and/or physical incapacity. The many chronic conditions that can accompany aging may incapacitate an adult to the point where it is impossible to carry out activities of daily living or handle even a bank account.


Conservatorship Process

Petition:
In order for a Judge to appoint a conservator, someone must file a document with the Court that is called a petition. The petition explains why a person cannot handle his or her own personal and/or financial affairs and why a conservator should be appointed. Part of the petition is confidential and is kept that way by the Court.
Who Qualifies as a Conservator:
There may be allegations of physical abuse, financial exploitation, or self- neglect. A doctor's statement is often filed. The petition must name the person or agency that is willing serve as the conservator. The law favors appointment of family members whenever possible. However, according to law, the Judge has the sole discretion as to who should be appointed to serve as the conservator. The law guides the Judge by stating the Judge must act in the best interests of the impaired person. The person who is allegedly incapacitated can nominate or name the person he or she would like to be the conservator. By law, family members receive copies of the petition especially those who are children, parents, sisters and brothers and grandchildren.

When the court hearing date arrives, the proposed conservator and his or her attorney are required to come to Court. In San Francisco, all proposed conservatorships are considered on Thursday mornings.

A 20-minute educational videotape is shown to everyone before the cases are heard by the Judge. The proposed conservator already may have purchased the Handbook for Conservators, which is available in Room 103 of the Civic Center Courthouse for $20.

By the time the Judge hears the cases, he or she has already read the petition, the doctor's statement, the investigator's report and any other documents that are in the official court file. At the hearing, the Judge listens to what people in each case have to say. If it appears that the matter is complicated or will take more time, the Judge may set another time for everyone to come back. The Judge may refer to the case for mediation by trained mediators who do not charge a fee. If the conservator who is appointed is a family member or friend, the Judge will require that the person attend educational classes, which are also free. The classes are taught by private professional conservators who volunteer their time to the Court and to the new conservators. There is one 3-hour class for conservators of person and one 3-hour class for conservators of estate. Some people are appointed conservator of both person and estate while other people are appointed one or the other type.

Before the court hearing date, a Probate Court Investigator goes out to interview the person who is thought to need a conservator. The investigator tells the person about the petition and explains the information in the petition. The investigator also tells the person about legal rights. For instance, the person has the right to come to the court hearing, to object to a conservatorship up to and including a jury trial, to state who he or she wants to be conservator, and to have an attorney. Investigators arrange for attorneys if requested or needed. If the person has no assets, the Court will arrange for payment of the attorney fees. The investigator interviews other people who are concerned about the person who is thought to need a conservator. The investigator writes a confidential report for the Judge. By law, a copy of the report is sent to the attorneys in the case.

When the court hearing date arrives, the proposed conservator and his or her attorney are required to come to Court. In San Francisco, all proposed conservatorships are considered on Thursday mornings.

A 20-minute educational videotape is shown to everyone before the cases are heard by the Judge. The proposed conservator already may have purchased the Handbook for Conservators, which is available in Room 103 of the Civic Center Courthouse for $20.

By the time the Judge hears the cases, he or she has already read the petition, the doctor's statement, the investigator's report and any other documents that are in the official court file. At the hearing, the Judge listens to what people in each case have to say. If it appears that the matter is complicated or will take more time, the Judge may set another time for everyone to come back. The Judge may refer to the case for mediation by trained mediators who do not charge a fee. If the conservator who is appointed is a family member or friend, the Judge will require that the person attend educational classes, which are also free. The classes are taught by private professional conservators who volunteer their time to the Court and to the new conservators. There is one 3-hour class for conservators of person and one 3-hour class for conservators of estate. Some people are appointed conservator of both person and estate while other people are appointed one or the other type.

When the petition is filed, a court date is set 4-8 weeks later. This is called a hearing and it is public. In the meantime, there may be a temporary conservator if it is needed to help the person or stop financial abuse such as a bank account being drained or a house being wrongfully sold.
Before the court hearing date, a Probate Court Investigator goes out to interview the person who is thought to need a conservator. The investigator tells the person about the petition and explains the information in the petition. The investigator also tells the person about legal rights. For instance, the person has the right to come to the court hearing, to object to a conservatorship up to and including a jury trial, to state who he or she wants to be conservator, and to have an attorney. Investigators arrange for attorneys if requested or needed. If the person has no assets, the Court will arrange for payment of the attorney fees. The investigator interviews other people who are concerned about the person who is thought to need a conservator. The investigator writes a confidential report for the Judge. By law, a copy of the report is sent to the attorneys in the case.

When the court hearing date arrives, the proposed conservator and his or her attorney are required to come to Court. In San Francisco, all proposed conservatorships are considered on Thursday mornings.

A 20-minute educational videotape is shown to everyone before the cases are heard by the Judge. The proposed conservator already may have purchased the Handbook for Conservators, which is available in Room 103 of the Civic Center Courthouse for $20.

By the time the Judge hears the cases, he or she has already read the petition, the doctor's statement, the investigator's report and any other documents that are in the official court file. At the hearing, the Judge listens to what people in each case have to say. If it appears that the matter is complicated or will take more time, the Judge may set another time for everyone to come back. The Judge may refer to the case for mediation by trained mediators who do not charge a fee. If the conservator who is appointed is a family member or friend, the Judge will require that the person attend educational classes, which are also free. The classes are taught by private professional conservators who volunteer their time to the Court and to the new conservators. There is one 3-hour class for conservators of person and one 3-hour class for conservators of estate. Some people are appointed conservator of both person and estate while other people are appointed one or the other type.

When the petition is filed, a court date is set 4-8 weeks later. This is called a hearing and it is public. In the meantime, there may be a temporary conservator if it is needed to help the person or stop financial abuse such as a bank account being drained or a house being wrongfully sold.
There may be allegations of physical abuse, financial exploitation, or self- neglect. A doctor's statement is often filed. The petition must name the person or agency that is willing serve as the conservator. The law favors appointment of family members whenever possible. However, according to law, the Judge has the sole discretion as to who should be appointed to serve as the conservator. The law guides the Judge by stating the Judge must act in the best interests of the impaired person. The person who is allegedly incapacitated can nominate or name the person he or she would like to be the conservator. By law, family members receive copies of the petition especially those who are children, parents, sisters and brothers and grandchildren.

When the court hearing date arrives, the proposed conservator and his or her attorney are required to come to Court. In San Francisco, all proposed conservatorships are considered on Thursday mornings.

A 20-minute educational videotape is shown to everyone before the cases are heard by the Judge. The proposed conservator already may have purchased the Handbook for Conservators, which is available in Room 103 of the Civic Center Courthouse for $20.

By the time the Judge hears the cases, he or she has already read the petition, the doctor's statement, the investigator's report and any other documents that are in the official court file. At the hearing, the Judge listens to what people in each case have to say. If it appears that the matter is complicated or will take more time, the Judge may set another time for everyone to come back. The Judge may refer to the case for mediation by trained mediators who do not charge a fee. If the conservator who is appointed is a family member or friend, the Judge will require that the person attend educational classes, which are also free. The classes are taught by private professional conservators who volunteer their time to the Court and to the new conservators. There is one 3-hour class for conservators of person and one 3-hour class for conservators of estate. Some people are appointed conservator of both person and estate while other people are appointed one or the other type.

Before the court hearing date, a Probate Court Investigator goes out to interview the person who is thought to need a conservator. The investigator tells the person about the petition and explains the information in the petition. The investigator also tells the person about legal rights. For instance, the person has the right to come to the court hearing, to object to a conservatorship up to and including a jury trial, to state who he or she wants to be conservator, and to have an attorney. Investigators arrange for attorneys if requested or needed. If the person has no assets, the Court will arrange for payment of the attorney fees. The investigator interviews other people who are concerned about the person who is thought to need a conservator. The investigator writes a confidential report for the Judge. By law, a copy of the report is sent to the attorneys in the case.

When the court hearing date arrives, the proposed conservator and his or her attorney are required to come to Court. In San Francisco, all proposed conservatorships are considered on Thursday mornings.

A 20-minute educational videotape is shown to everyone before the cases are heard by the Judge. The proposed conservator already may have purchased the Handbook for Conservators, which is available in Room 103 of the Civic Center Courthouse for $20.

By the time the Judge hears the cases, he or she has already read the petition, the doctor's statement, the investigator's report and any other documents that are in the official court file. At the hearing, the Judge listens to what people in each case have to say. If it appears that the matter is complicated or will take more time, the Judge may set another time for everyone to come back. The Judge may refer to the case for mediation by trained mediators who do not charge a fee. If the conservator who is appointed is a family member or friend, the Judge will require that the person attend educational classes, which are also free. The classes are taught by private professional conservators who volunteer their time to the Court and to the new conservators. There is one 3-hour class for conservators of person and one 3-hour class for conservators of estate. Some people are appointed conservator of both person and estate while other people are appointed one or the other type.

When the petition is filed, a court date is set 4-8 weeks later. This is called a hearing and it is public. In the meantime, there may be a temporary conservator if it is needed to help the person or stop financial abuse such as a bank account being drained or a house being wrongfully sold.
Before the court hearing date, a Probate Court Investigator goes out to interview the person who is thought to need a conservator. The investigator tells the person about the petition and explains the information in the petition. The investigator also tells the person about legal rights. For instance, the person has the right to come to the court hearing, to object to a conservatorship up to and including a jury trial, to state who he or she wants to be conservator, and to have an attorney. Investigators arrange for attorneys if requested or needed. If the person has no assets, the Court will arrange for payment of the attorney fees. The investigator interviews other people who are concerned about the person who is thought to need a conservator. The investigator writes a confidential report for the Judge. By law, a copy of the report is sent to the attorneys in the case.

When the court hearing date arrives, the proposed conservator and his or her attorney are required to come to Court. In San Francisco, all proposed conservatorships are considered on Thursday mornings.

A 20-minute educational videotape is shown to everyone before the cases are heard by the Judge. The proposed conservator already may have purchased the Handbook for Conservators, which is available in Room 103 of the Civic Center Courthouse for $20.

By the time the Judge hears the cases, he or she has already read the petition, the doctor's statement, the investigator's report and any other documents that are in the official court file. At the hearing, the Judge listens to what people in each case have to say. If it appears that the matter is complicated or will take more time, the Judge may set another time for everyone to come back. The Judge may refer to the case for mediation by trained mediators who do not charge a fee. If the conservator who is appointed is a family member or friend, the Judge will require that the person attend educational classes, which are also free. The classes are taught by private professional conservators who volunteer their time to the Court and to the new conservators. There is one 3-hour class for conservators of person and one 3-hour class for conservators of estate. Some people are appointed conservator of both person and estate while other people are appointed one or the other type.


After a Conservatorship is Established

Management of Wealth and Property

When a conservatorship is established, the Judge will require that a bond be obtained for the liquid assets and annual income in the person's estate. Liquid assets include bank accounts and stocks. A bond is like an insurance policy. If the conservator mishandles the money or takes it, the person in conservatorship can be reimbursed.

The Judge also schedules the case for Court monitoring of the finances and property of the person in conservatorship as well as his or her welfare. The law requires that an Inventory and Appraisal of all assets be filed within 90 days of the appointment of the conservator. The conservator must also file a General Plan for the conservatorship. If the conservatee has any real property, the conservator must record evidence of the conservatorship with The Recorder of the City and County of San Francisco.

One Year Review

One year after the appointment of the conservator and every two years thereafter, an accounting of the assets, including the income and the expenditures must be filed with the Court. The accounting is reviewed in detail by a probate examiner. An investigator personally interviews the individual in conservatorship periodically and determines if the conservator is acting properly.


Non-Family Conservators

There are times when family members are unavailable or incapable of serving as conservators. Occasionally, the person who is thought to need a conservator does not want a family member to be the conservator. In those situations, there are agencies and individuals that can serve. The Public Guardian is an agency of the City and County of San Francisco and is the largest non-family conservator. There are also non-profit agencies that have complied with the law and can be appointed to serve as conservators. In addition there are individuals who are available to serve. They are called private professional conservators. As of July 1, 2008, they must be licensed by the State of California and meet ongoing educational requirements. All professional conservators are expected to keep a case and provide services even if the money runs out, especially if they have been appointed to serve as conservator of the person.

All conservators and attorneys in a conservatorship case are entitled to request the Court for fees for their work. The fees are carefully reviewed and granted by the Probate Court only if they have been properly justified. Conservators and attorneys cannot take money without a formal court order.


Those Most in Need of Conservatorship

Conservatorships affect mainly older people, especially those over 85 years of age. Coincidentally, the fastest growing age group in the United States is the one over 85 years of age. In California, that age group will increase by 143 percent between 1990 and 2020. Some counties will experience even higher rates, up to 400 percent. The influence of the 85 and older age group will emerge most strongly between 2030 and 2040 as the first of the baby boomers reaches 85 years of age (http://www.aging.ca.gov). With the right genes, healthy living, and luck, most people will escape being incapacitated. However, many San Franciscans will have impairments and will need help with daily living. Most likely the number of conservatorships will increase over time. Fortunately, the California legislature has mandated many court safeguards for those who need conservatorships.

Contact Us, Hours & Directions

Judge Mary E. Wiss, Presiding
400 McAllister St.
Department 204
San Francisco, CA 94102-4514

Probate Department - Room 202
Judge, Examiners (415) 551-3650

Director, Investigators (415) 551-3657

Courtroom Clerk (415) 551-3702

Calendar Clerk (415) 551-3662

Court Supervisor of Probate Section Clerk's Office (415) 551-3924

Room 103 Filing Windows 24, 25 and 26 (415) 551-3892

Hours

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Department Office- 9 a.m. - 11 a.m., Monday - Friday, except Court holidays

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