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How to Contest a Conservatorship in California


When a loved one becomes incapacitated due to an injury, illness, or neurological condition, it's heart-wrenching. Often, this may happen without a power of attorney in place, making it necessary for the courts to appoint a conservator. This conservator is tasked with making vital financial and personal decisions on behalf of the incapacitated individual. However, when a conservator begins abusing or exploiting their authority, particularly for personal gain, the situation demands action.


Contesting a conservatorship becomes essential if there are clear warning signs of abuse. This could be when a conservator acts in ways that are detrimental to the conservatee’s interests and potentially those of their beneficiaries. It’s a challenging process but understanding how to contest conservatorships effectively in court can help you protect your family member or friend from further harm, whether financial, mental, or emotional.


If the conservatorship has spared your family from further difficulties but you recognize it's no longer acting in the best interest of your loved one, it might be time to bring the case back to court. This guide aims to prepare you for contesting your California conservatorship and prevent further suffering. You can petition for a conservatorship contest and finally feel like you're no longer stuck in an unfavorable situation.


What is a conservatorship?


When an individual is unable to competently make their own decisions, a conservatorship may be established. This legal arrangement involves the courts appointing a conservator—sometimes referred to as an "adult guardianship"—to act on behalf of the conservatee (or ward). A conservatorship is typically considered when the conservatee is in situations like coma, suffering from severe mental health conditions such as advanced Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other forms of mental illness, where they are substantially unable to manage their own financial resources or are vulnerable to fraud or undue influence.


How to Contest a Conservatorship in California

For example, the California State Probate Code §1801(b) explicitly states that a conservator of the estate may be appointed for those who are substantially unable to manage their own financial resources or to resist fraud or undue influence. In some cases, these conservatorships are voluntary, with the conservatee understanding and agreeing to the arrangement because they believe it to be in their best interest. However, often the conservatee may be unable to give consent or unwilling to cooperate, making it necessary for family, friends, or government agencies to petition for a conservatorship.


California Conservatorships You Can Contest


In California, if you are concerned about a loved one under a conservatorship that might not be acting in their best interests, it's crucial to know that you have the power to fight back. The California probate code provides the opportunity to challenge three main types of conservatorships: Limited conservatorships, General conservatorships, and LPS conservatorships. Each type serves different purposes and knowing which one applies to your situation is key.


A. General Conservatorship

In cases where a conservatee cannot make their own decisions due to mental or physical limitations, a judge may establish a general conservatorship. This arrangement typically grants the Conservator broad control over the conservatee's finances, medical decisions, and living arrangements, depending on the circumstances surrounding their condition.


B. Limited Conservatorship

A limited conservatorship is often set up for adults with developmental disabilities who cannot make all of their own decisions. In these cases, the court order defines a specific scope of responsibilities and powers for the conservator, ensuring that only necessary areas of the conservatee's life are influenced, to promote as much independence as possible.


C. LPS Conservatorship

An LPS conservatorship is specifically designed for a loved one suffering from severe mental incapacitation, such as bipolar disorder or alcoholism, where they might be stuck in a mental facility or institution. This type of conservatorship can unfortunately provide Conservators with even more opportunity to take advantage of the conservatee during such a vulnerable time.


What is a contested conservatorship?


A contested conservatorship arises when a party legally disputes the appointment of a conservator or challenges the conservator's powers to make financial, medical, or personal decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person. Often referred to interchangeably with contested guardianship, the core issue in both scenarios is typically that either the conservatorship is deemed unnecessary, or the appointed person is not adequately managing the assets, or is failing to uphold their obligations—or worse, is abusing them.


These situations are complex and emotionally-charged, often involving family members or closely associated parties who find themselves suddenly in opposition. The dynamics of such cases can turn family members into adversaries, creating an uncomfortable and adversarial position for everyone involved.


However, with the guidance of competent and tactful counsel, these conflicts can be navigated with a minimum of personal conflict. An expert in conservatorship law can help ensure that the process is handled fairly, aiming to resolve the contested conservatorship efficiently and with the best possible outcome for the incapacitated person.

Who can contest a conservatorship?


Virtually anyone with an interest in the incapacitated conservatee's personal welfare or estate assets can contest a conservatorship. This includes not only the proposed conservatee but also family members, friends, and even business associates who may be concerned about the well-being of the individual. Designated beneficiaries named in the conservatee's will or trust are also common contestants in these proceedings.


It is often more preferable to contest the conservatorship during the petitioning stages, while it is still pending in the conservatorship case process. This strategic timing gives you a better chance to intervene before final decisions are made. However, don't be deterred if a conservator has already been appointed; you still have a legal leg to stand on.


Given that conservators are appointed by the court and are expected to uphold a high standard of care, it’s important to act if there’s clear evidence they have violated this trust. If you believe the conservator has failed to adhere to the standards of conduct, especially as outlined in CRC Rule 7.1059, consulting with a conservatorship attorney promptly can help protect your rights and those of the conservative.


What is the process of contesting a conservatorship?


When one seeks to contest a conservatorship in California, understanding the initial steps and necessary actions is critical. To begin, the first step is to seek a skilled and proven attorney who specializes in conservatorship matters. This legal expert will help guide you through the process, ensuring that all required filing and notifications are handled correctly.


Notifying all interested parties is a crucial part of the process. This includes the petitioning conservator, the proposed conservatee, and any relevant family members. An official petition must be filed in court, marking the formal beginning of contesting the arrangement. This is the stage where you articulate why you believe the conservatorship is unnecessary or why a different conservator should be considered.


It's generally more cost-effective to address these issues before the conservatee is officially appointed. Contesting an existing conservatorship can be significantly more expensive and complex, so timing can play a critical role in the strategy. This approach not only ensures a smoother process but also helps in managing legal costs effectively.


Look for These Signs When Contesting a Conservatorship


When deciding to contest a conservatorship in California, it's crucial to understand the reasons that may justify such a decision. Conservatorship is a serious legal arrangement that can significantly impact a person's life, so ensuring it is genuinely needed is paramount. Often, signs that may lead one to contest can include questionable actions by the conservator or changes in the conservatee's condition that make such oversight unnecessary.

The conservator intentionally abused the conservatee

In California, if you suspect that a conservator has intentionally abused their power over a conservatee, it's crucial to know how to effectively challenge this. Often, this type of abuse could manifest as physical harm, financial exploitation, or neglect of the conservatee's basic needs. Recognizing these harmful actions is the first step towards taking protective measures. Key indicators might include unusual withdrawals from the conservatee's accounts, suspicious changes in wills or estate plans, or even direct signs of physical harm.


Documenting every incident is essential. Whether it's Unpaid bill notices, bounced checks, or the odd disposal of significant assets like real estate, these are all tangible pieces of evidence that support claims of abuse. The legal process to address these concerns involves filing a petition that details each instance of abuse, which can significantly help in proving the conservator's breach of their duty.


For those going through such challenging times, consulting with an attorney who specializes in conservatorship abuse can provide both the necessary guidance and an understanding of the rights and protections available under California law. This professional support is vital in ensuring that the conservatee's best interests are safeguarded, and that justice is served for any wrongdoings.


The conservator oversteps their specified powers

In California, conservators are granted a specific scope of powers and responsibilities, tailored to protect the interests of the conservatee. However, there are times when a conservator might overstep these boundaries, making decisions beyond their legal rights, particularly in a limited conservatorship. For instance, they might manage aspects of the conservatee's personal life or health, which they are not authorized to handle, especially when they are only supposed to make decisions about the estate.


If family members observe such overreach, they might feel compelled to contest the conservatorship. Contesting is vital when the conservator's actions potentially harm the conservatee, either financially, medically, or in terms of personal freedom and dignity. This overstepping can erode trust and necessitate legal intervention to reassess the conservator's role or to appoint someone new who strictly adheres to the judicially set limits.


To initiate this process, it is crucial to gather evidence that clearly shows where and how the conservator has acted outside their given authority. Legal guidance from an attorney experienced in conservatorship cases can ensure that the steps taken not only align with legal requirements but also serve the conservatee’s best interests, aiming for a resolution that restores their rights and wellbeing.


Someone else should have priority as the conservator

When a conservatorship is needed, the probate court follows a specific order of priority to determine who should serve as the conservator. Typically, this list starts with the spouse, followed by an adult child, parent, sibling, any interested person, and finally the public guardian. However, disputes can arise if someone higher on the priority list feels overlooked or more suitable to serve in this role.


If an individual believes they should have been appointed due to their higher placement on this list, they can challenge the current conservatorship. This involves presenting a case to the probate judge that outlines their closer relationship or better capability to manage the affairs of the conservatee. It’s crucial for this claim to be backed by clear evidence and legal arguments that highlight why they represent the conservatee's best interests more effectively than the appointed conservator.


The conservatee no longer needs a conservator

Sometimes, the circumstances that warranted a conservatorship may change, leading to a situation where the conservatee no longer needs such oversight. This can often occur when the conservatorship was initially set up as temporary, such as during a period when the conservatee was undergoing a temporary medical emergency. As the individual recovers or their condition stabilizes, the justification for continuing the conservatorship might diminish.


However, if the conservator doesn’t agree to give up their responsibility, even when it's apparent that the conservatorship is no longer necessary, the conservatee or their supporters may need to contest the arrangement. This is an essential step to ensure that the conservatee’s autonomy is restored, and they are allowed to manage their own affairs once again.


Work with Winning California Attorneys

When you need to contest a conservatorship in California, choosing an experienced firm with a strong reputation for probate victories is crucial. These attorneys are experts in navigating court-appointed processes, equipped with the necessary knowledge and empathy to guide your loved one out of a toxic legal arrangement. Their expertise spans probate administration, elder abuse, and handling complex conservatorship cases across California, making them uniquely qualified to assist you through this challenging process.

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