California Advocacy Groups Demand Reform of Conservatorships

Conservatorships in California have recently been met by multiple advocacy groups and individual attorneys fighting for the rights of conservatees. California advocacy groups in 2022 are demanding reform of the state’s conservatorship systems. These California advocacy groups want to see a move toward higher-quality protections and less-restrictive options. Some conservatorships can be very restrictive, even having the potential to restrict the civil rights of those who are in need of care. As light continues to shine on this subject, California lawmakers are beginning to discuss avenues for a better future for conservatees.

What is a Conservatorship? 

A conservatorship is a legal process where an individual (the conservator) is appointed by a judge to take care of another person (the conservatee). The conservator makes decisions regarding finances, health, and housing for the conservatee. Conservatorship was intended as a last resort when all other options are exhausted. Typically, family members or close friends petition Probate Court on behalf of an elderly or disabled loved one who can no longer manage his/her own affairs. In many cases, however, the people who petition for conservatorship do not have their loved one’s best interests at heart but rather desire access to their wealth.

Judges, Attorneys, and Conservators Association (JCAA)

The Judges, Attorneys, and Conservators Association (JCAA) held a symposium recently to discuss reform measures and how California’s conservator systems can be improved. The JCAA is a California organization that advocates for improvements in conservator systems across all counties.

Today, members of JCAA are demanding more transparency and less government abuse in court proceedings for persons with limited mental capacity who have been placed under a conservatorship by a probate court judge.

Of particular concern for JCAA is privacy protection in cases involving celebrities or high-profile individuals like Britney Spears. Among other concerns discussed at the symposium was AB1663 – a bill currently making its way through Sacramento that would allow adults to petition for increased personal freedoms upon reaching a certain age threshold if they aren’t already subject to a conservatorship because of physical incapacity or addiction problems.

This law has drawn criticism from many counties throughout Southern California where conservatorships have become commonplace– even when their scope isn’t strictly needed.

Reform Advocates Change to the System

In California, guardians appointed by a probate court can take complete control over someone else’s life—for medical decisions, living arrangements, finances. Britney Spears’ recent end to her conservatorship has drawn new attention to what happens when a conservator abuses his or her power.  And advocates say it isn’t an isolated incident.

Attorney groups are now lobbying for greater oversight in conservatorships, especially as they become more common for adults as well as children with special needs or mental health issues. Bill AB1663 would make major changes to how conservatorships work; currently, no one entity oversees how conservators carry out their duties.

A coalition of attorneys and advocacy groups have gathered thousands of signatures from people who support reform measures like AB1663 to show lawmakers there is public interest in making changes that would increase protections for those under conservatorship and ensure due process rights are protected.

How Conservatees Rights Can Be Protected

While many celebrities and well-known figures have been placed under conservatorship, advocacy groups are concerned that less-famous individuals are also being subjected to overreaching conservatorships. One of these groups, Californians for Disability Rights (CDR), is urging for more restrictive laws regarding conservator decisions. CDR supports AB1663, which would limit certain conservator powers and protect individual rights.

Specifically, these amendments would:

  • Prohibit conservators from taking away an adult’s constitutional or civil rights unless it can be shown that the person cannot understand what their rights mean:
  • Prohibit a conservator from using force or coercion
  • Require family members be notified about any proposed conservatorship proceedings at least 10 days before court hearings begin
  • Authorize someone who has completed basic legal training to serve as a representative payee for a person receiving benefits through Social Security.

Conservatees have very little legal recourse when it comes to their rights. AB1663 would help to level that playing field, offering more protections for individuals who are conserved.

When to Involve Your Attorney

If you have a conservator or caretaker, you may wish to contact your attorney if your caretaker is keeping you from seeing family or friends. You may also wish to speak with an attorney if you are a loved one of someone who is being taken advantage of in their time of need. Your loved one’s attorney can act as your advocate and safeguard against abuse in court proceedings.

Your attorney should be consulted when it comes to making financial decisions that affect you or anyone else under conservatorship. It is important for you to know what your rights are and what options are available for others involved in providing care for those under conservatorship.

The best thing an individual can do if they feel they are being dealt with unjustly in a conservatorship is to contact Lowthorp Richards Attorney at Law. For more information on how we can help you or your loved ones recover legal rights and obtain fair treatment, please call 805-981-8555.

NOTE: The information contained herein is not intended to be legal advice and the reader should know that no Attorney-Client relationship or privilege is formed by the posting or reading of this article which is also not intended to solicit business.

Cristian R. Arrieta, Lowthorp Richards McMillan Miller & Templeman, A Professional Corporation, 300 E. Esplanade Drive Suite 850, Oxnard, CA 93036