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Office of the Public Guardian / Conservator

Frequently Asked Questions


LPS Conservatorship

LPS Conservatorship
  • Only designated mental health treatment facilities, agencies, or the courts can make a referral to the Public Guardian for LPS.  Only the Public Guardian can petition the court for the initial appointment as Conservator.

  • LPS matters are set for a court hearing and are usually decided in less than 30 days.

  • The Public Guardian, a relative, or an interested party may be appointed.  However, all referrals are investigated and recommendations are submitted to the court.

  • LPS Conservatorships automatically terminate after one year but may be renewed annually at a court hearing.

  • Persons must meet the legal criteria of “grave disability", be a resident of San Joaquin County, have a primary mental health diagnosis, and be assessed by a designated facility as needing a conservatorship. The Office of the Public Guardian makes the determination if a referral meets the legal criteria for a petition and the court makes the ultimate decision if a conservatorship is established.

  • Frequently known as a T-Con, only the Office of the Public Guardian can serve as the temporary Conservator for a LPS Conservatorship.  During the temporary conservatorship, the Office of the Public Guardian has authority over the person and is responsible for investigating the need for a permanent conservatorship. The Public Guardian’s Office investigates all alternatives to conservatorship, and if a conservatorship is needed, recommends who should be appointed. 

  • A permanent LPS Conservatorship lasts for a year, or until a treating doctor or the court determines that the Conservatee no longer meets the legal criteria for conservatorship.  A petition for renewal of conservatorship at the end of one year can be done if the Conservatee meets the legal criteria for conservatorship and no viable alternatives exist.

  • For LPS Conservatorships, the court usually authorizes mental health treatment only, including psychotropic drugs, even when against the will of the individual.

Probate Conservatorship

Probate Conservatorship
  • Any interested party can make a probate referral to the Public Guardian. Likewise, any interested party can petition the court to become the Conservator. Before doing so, however, family members should consult with an attorney. The Public Guardian’s Office receives referrals from Adult Protective Services (APS), convalescent hospitals, acute care hospitals, law enforcement, and private citizens, just to name a few.

  • Probate matters can take several months or longer to decide.

  • The Public Guardian is usually appointed on petitions it files. Probate Conservatorship petitions may be filed by private individuals or by agencies on their own behalf.

  • Probate is indefinite, but the Conservatee or Conservator may petition the court for termination at any time.

  • A Probate Conservatorship is generally established for a person who is unable to meet their needs for physical health, food, clothing or shelter, or for a person "substantially unable to manage their financial resources" or resist fraud or undue influence. The person must also be a San Joaquin County resident.

  • Probate Conservatorship is restricted to adults, age 18 and older, who meet the legal basis described above. Generally, Probate Conservatorships involve frail elderly or dependent adults.

  • The court often grants the Conservator the exclusive authority to make most medical decisions, such as surgeries, but not involuntary mental health treatment decisions.

  • The Conservator is usually authorized to place the Conservatee anywhere in California consistent with treatment needs, except in a mental health treatment facility.

General Conservatorship Questions

General Conservatorship Questions
  • With advance planning there are some alternatives that can possibly prevent the need for conservatorship while also providing a smoother transition in the care of the disabled person and reducing the strain on loved ones. Planning ahead regarding both medical and financial decisions is critical. In some situations, a durable Power of Attorney, an advance health care directive, a living trust, or even a representative payee service may be sufficient. These alternatives can be put in place prior to a person becoming disabled, so please consult with qualified professionals while loved ones are still in good health. If a person is already disabled or otherwise incapable of assisting with the establishment of alternatives, a conservatorship may be necessary.

    As mentioned above, the use of a payee service may be sufficient to provide for an individual’s needs. For persons receiving Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration is encouraging the use of organizational or institutional payees. For more information see their website at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/payee

    Serving as power of attorney, trustee, or representative payee provides significant authority in the management of another person’s financial affairs. With this authority also come responsibility and accountability. To help you better understand what serving in any of these capacities entails, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office for Older Americans has prepared several guides on managing someone else’s money. These guides are similar, yet have some specific information and resources depending on the type of financial management provided. Please click on the role that applies to you: Trustee, Representative Payee/Fiduciary, or Power of Attorney.

  • The Public Guardian’s Office is not able to assist family members in establishing a conservatorship. The Public Guardian’s Office does not file petitions seeking the appointment of a third party such as a family member or friend.

  • The Public Guardian does not ordinarily file petitions for conservatorship of persons residing in nursing homes or hospitals unless the person is a victim of financial exploitation, another form of elder abuse, or family members are obstructing the person’s care and treatment. The Public Guardian is often asked about conservatorship for an individual in a facility because he or she is unable to make medical decisions, sign facility admission agreements, or needs assistance paying bills including their placement cost. A conservatorship is not necessary in these cases because alternatives exist to meet those needs.

    In regard to medical needs, California Probate Code section 3200 et seq. provides an avenue to obtain authority to make medical decisions without a conservatorship. Any interested person, including a patient’s physician or treatment facility staff, may petition the court for authority. In addition, California Health and Safety Code section 1418.8 provides that an interdisciplinary team can oversee the medical care of a patient when the patient lacks capacity to give informed consent to treatment.

    The inability to sign facility admission documents is also addressed by California law. California Welfare and Institutions Code section 14110.8(b) maintains no facility may require or solicit as a condition of admission into the facility that a Medi-Cal beneficiary have a responsible party sign or cosign the admissions agreement. In addition, California Health and Safety Code section 1599.65 clarifies in the event a patient is unable to sign a contract, the reason shall be documented in the resident’s medical record by the admitting physician.

    A resident’s inability or refusal to pay placement costs can be addressed with the help of Social Security. In fact, the Social Security Administration encourages institutions, including skilled nursing facilities, to serve as representative payees and assist with payment of monthly placement costs. For more information, visit Social Security’s web page on representative payees. http://www.socialsecurity.gov/payee

  • When needed to protect the proposed Conservatee’s health or assets, the Public Guardian may prepare and file a request for a temporary conservatorship to be appointed pending the hearing date for the petition for general conservatorship. However, this is not immediate and still involves time to investigate and obtain a court date. For emergencies involving the welfare of an adult, contact Adult Protective Services (APS) at (209) 468-3780. The Public Guardian is able to quickly step in to marshal and protect assets that are at risk.

  • Abuse of elders and dependent adults is a crime. Abuse can take many forms, including physical and financial abuse, or neglect. Suspected abuse should be reported to the local police and Adult Protective Services (APS) at (209) 468-3780, the agency responsible for investigating reports of abuse. Even when abuse cannot be substantiated as a crime, intervention may be necessary. Through the civil process of conservatorship, the Public Guardian may be able to prevent further abuse by taking steps such as securing medical treatment or freezing assets.

  • The Public Guardian must make decisions based on what is in the best interest of the person on conservatorship. The Public Guardian tries to work with family members and significant others as much as possible when it is in the person’s best interest. The Public Guardian realizes that healthy contact with loved ones is very important to a person’s well-being and will facilitate this. On the other hand, when family members are creating undue stress or other problems for a person on conservatorship, the Public Guardian has the authority to petition the court to restrict or eliminate all contact.

  • Yes, the Public Guardian does charge a fee for its investigation and case management services. These fees are usually requested when the first accounting is approved by the court one year after the conservatorship is established. A statement of services is attached to the accounting and explains all of the work done for which fees are requested. The fees are paid only after the court has approved them. Once approved, the fees for Public Guardian services are paid from the Conservatee’s estate. This accounting process continues throughout the lifetime of the conservatorship. Please note, however, that the Public Guardian accepts and investigates referrals regardless of an individual's ability to pay from his or her estate for the services provided.

Representative Payee Services

Representative Payee Services
  • No. You have to be a client of San Joaquin County Behavioral Health Services and be case managed in order to utilize our services. Your Case Manager can send us a referral for us to be your payee.

  • Yes. The fee is established by the Social Security Administration.