As of July 1, 2022, the Office of the Public Guardian will move to the Adult and Long Term Care Services Division in the County of Santa Cruz Human Services Department.
The Public Guardian manages the property, finances and personal care needs of county individuals who are substantially unable to provide for themselves. This is accomplished through conservatorships. See below for information about conservatorships.
Family members, physicians, friends or institutional staff may be concerned about the well-being of an individual who is:
- Elderly and unable to provide for or manage their personal needs (physical health, food, clothing, financial resources, fraudulent influence from others)
- Gravely disabled as a result of a mental disorder and unable to provide for their basic necessities (food, clothing, shelter).
If so, they can make a referral to the Public Guardian/Conservatorship Investigator to investigate the need for a conservator.
What is a Conservatorship?
A conservatorship is established when the Superior Court holds a hearing and a judge appoints a conservator to manage the financial and/or personal care needs of an individual who is either physically or mentally unable to properly provide for these needs alone.
The inability to provide for the personal needs of physical health, food, clothing or shelter may indicate the need for a conservatorship of the person.
A conservatorship of the estate may be initiated for an individual who is substantially unable to manage financial resources or resist fraud or undue influence. The law states that "substantially unable" may not be based solely on isolated incidents of negligence. There must be a clear indication that limiting disabilities will continue in order to substantiate the need for a conservatorship. A non-conventional lifestyle or the fact that someone is a nuisance to neighbors and the community do not, by themselves, justify the need for a conservatorship.
In California, there are two types of conservatorships:
- Probate Conservatorship
- L.P.S. (Lanterman-Petris-Short) Conservatorship
What is a probate conservatorship?
A probate conservatorship provides a way to manage property and/or provide for the personal care needs of the adult disabled and the elderly. The discovery of need for a probate conservatorship is usually made by someone close to the person, such as a family member, physician, neighbor, friend, hospital or other institutional staff member. The need for a conservatorship is usually determined by observing behavioral changes, such as a decline in mental and/or physical condition affecting the ability to accomplish normal day-to-day activities.
A probate conservatorship may be of the person only, or estate only, or person and estate combined. A probate conservator does not have the authority to place his/her conservatee in a psychiatric treatment facility.
A probate conservatorship remains in effect indefinitely, usually until the conservatee can show that he or she is again capable of handling his/her own affairs appropriately, or until a suitable alternative such as a representative payee is found.
Prospective probate cases are referred to the Public Guardian Office by Adult Protective Services or the Superior Court.
What is an L.P.S. conservatorship?
An L.P.S. (Lanterman-Petris-Short) conservatorship is for a person who is gravely disabled (as the result of a mental disorder) and is unable to provide for his/her basic personal needs for food, clothing or shelter, and requires placement in a facility for psychiatric treatment.
An L.P.S. conservatorship may be of the person only, or of the person and estate, but not of the estate only. An L.P.S. conservator has the authority to place his/her conservatee in a state hospital or psychiatric treatment facility involuntarily.
Prospective L.P.S. cases are referred to the Public Guardian Office by designated psychiatric treatment facilities. The designated referral agencies within Santa Cruz County are Community Mental Health and other licensed psychiatric facilities.
Once a case is referred, the Conservatorship Investigator evaluates the case, makes a recommendation and, if appropriate, petitions the court for the appointment of a conservator.
An L.P.S. conservatorship must be renewed by the conservator on an annual basis by filing the necessary documents with the Superior Court.
What are the effects of a conservatorship?
The establishment of a conservatorship has three basic effects:
- It shifts the responsibility of making financial and personal care decisions from the disabled individual (the conservatee) to the Court appointed conservator.
- It imposes significant limitations on the ability of the conservatee to take actions affecting finances or personal care.
- It provides a certain degree of protection for the conservatee's interests from fraud, misappropriation of funds or neglect.
Who may act as a Conservator?
The selection of a conservator is solely in the hands of the Court, which is guided in its selection process by what appears to be in the best interest of the proposed conservatee. This may be a relative, friend, interested third party, organization or the Public Guardian.
In cases where a relative, friend, third party or organization is willing and qualified to act as a conservator, that person or representative of the organization is advised to contact an attorney for information and assistance in petitioning the Court for appointment as the conservator. At the time a petition is filed, the Superior Court Investigator (for Probate) or the Conservatorship Investigator (for L.P.S.) advises the proposed conservatee of his/her rights, reviews the need for conservatorship and makes a recommendation to the Court.
If a relative, friend or interested third party is willing to act as the conservator, the following steps are advised:
- Contact an attorney. (The Public Guardian cannot give legal advice or bring a petition for a conservatorship on behalf of a family member or friend.) The Santa Cruz County Bar Association provides a lawyer referral service that can assist in locating an attorney.
- Formulate a care plan that addresses the personal care needs of food, clothing and shelter for the conservatee.
- Formulate a care plan for handling the conservatee's finances and protecting the assets.
If a conservatee is placed in a licensed facility and has concerns that they are not being cared for properly, they have the following options:
- Contact the Office of the Public Guardian.
- Contact their Court appointed attorney.
- Contact Ombudsman Advocate.
What is the order of preference for appointment of a conservator?
The Court is guided in the order of preference by the California Probate Code. Of those the Court finds equally capable, the order of preference is:
- The person chosen by the proposed conservatee, providing the proposed conservatee has the ability at the time that they choose a conservator to form an intelligent preference, unless the Court finds that the appointment of the person chosen is not in the best interest of the proposed conservatee.
- The spouse or person chosen by the spouse.
- An adult child or person chosen by the adult child.
- A parent or person chosen by the parent.
- A brother or sister or person chosen by the brother or sister.
- Any other eligible and appropriate person or entity.
- The Public Guardian. (The Public Guardian is considered the last resort.)
When does the public guardian act?
The Court provides for the appointment of the Public Guardian when no other qualified individual or entity is willing and able to act. The Public Guardian will act when he/she is assured through the conservatorship investigation process that:
- A need for a conservatorship does in fact exist and,
- All other resources including financial, in-home support services, private case management and family support have been exhausted.