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5 Types of Conservatorship


A conservatorship is a legal arrangement in which a court appoints a person or an organization to manage the financial affairs and/or personal care of an individual. Conservatorships are commonly set up to help a wide range of people, from the elderly grappling with dementia and young adults facing developmental disabilities. Here are five common types of conservatorships. For help with a full estate plan, consider speaking with a financial advisor.

What Is a Conservatorship?

A conservatorship appoints an individual or entity (known as the conservator) to manage personal and/or financial affairs of another person (known as the conservatee). This legal arrangement often comes into play when the conservatee is unable to manage their own interests due to incapacitating conditions, like severe cognitive impairments or significant brain injuries. It serves as a protective measure to ensure the welfare and assets of those who cannot defend their own interests.

When considering a conservatorship, the first step is to file a court petition, usually by someone close to the potential conservatee, such as a family member. The court then takes a close look at the conservatee’s ability to manage their affairs, which typically includes a professional evaluation by mental health experts. If the court determines that the individual lacks the necessary capacity, a conservator is appointed. The conservator is tasked with acting in the best interest of the conservatee, making decisions on their behalf, and regularly updating the court on their management of the conservatee’s matters.

Here are three common ways in which conservatorships can be structured:

  • Limited conservatorships: Tailored for individuals with developmental disabilities who can still handle some personal care or decision-making. This type of conservatorship is less restrictive and allows the conservatee to maintain certain rights.
  • Temporary conservatorships: Act as a short-term protective measure during emergencies or while a full conservatorship is being established. They provide swift assistance and typically end when a permanent solution is in place or the immediate crisis is resolved.
  • Full conservatorships: This is the most comprehensive type, transferring all personal and financial decision-making power from the conservatee to the conservator.

And, here’s a roundup of five common types of conservatorships and the common purposes that they serve:

1. General Conservatorship

A woman reviewing her estate plan, which includes a conservatorship for a family member, with a financial advisor.

A general conservatorship is created to provide legal protection and assistance for individuals who are deemed unable to manage their own affairs due to severe incapacity or disability. The objective of this legal arrangement is to ensure that the financial and personal needs of the conservatee are addressed.

The conservator will generally fulfill their duties by making financial decisions, managing assets, arranging healthcare services and advocating for the best interests of the conservatee under the guidance and supervision of the court.

A general conservatorship will therefore authorize broader powers, typically involving both financial management and personal care decisions, whereas other conservatorships may focus solely on either the financial or personal aspect of the conservatee’s affairs.

2. Limited Conservatorship

This legal arrangement grants conservators limited authority to make decisions regarding the personal care and finances of conservatees with developmental disabilities. These conservatees are partially capable of managing their own affairs, and therefore the conservatorship aims to preserve their autonomy to the extent that is possible.

Like other types of conservatorships, this specialized arrangement takes into account the unique needs of the conservatees and provides assistance in decision-making where necessary, while preserving their right to participate as much as possible in important decisions affecting their lives.

The primary intent is to strike a balance between that offers support and respects the individual’s capability to make personal choices.

3. LPS Conservatorship

LPS (Lanterman-Petris-Short) conservatorship is a legal designation primarily for individuals with serious mental illnesses. This legal arrangement allows a conservator to make decisions regarding their mental health treatment and placement in a psychiatric facility when they are unable to do so themselves.

An individual placed under LPS Conservatorship is acknowledged as gravely disabled within the context of mental health and requires a structured environment where they can receive structured care and treatment, often within a secured mental health facility.

The establishment of an LPS Conservatorship, therefore, serves as a means to ensure that individuals who are profoundly affected by mental illness are afforded the necessary support systems that allow for their health and safety.

Other conservatorships, by comparison, typically focus on broader aspects of personal care and financial management.

4. Probate Conservatorship

Probate conservatorship, like other conservatorships, legally appoints a conservator to manage the personal care and finances of an adult who is unable to do so themselves due to incapacity.

A conservatee, for example, may have advanced dementia or a developmental disability that impairs their decision-making. The role of the conservator, therefore, is to manage daily living arrangements, healthcare decisions, financial affairs and legal matters according to the court’s directives and the best interests of the conservatee.

5. Financial Conservatorship

A daughter appointed as a conservator for her mother.

A financial conservatorship specifically focuses on managing the financial affairs and assets of an individual, whereas other types of conservatorships may also involve decisions related to personal care, healthcare, or other aspects of the conservatee’s life.

A financial conservator oversees and manages the financial affairs of a conservatee who may be deemed incapable of managing their own finances due to various factors, including mental or physical disabilities, advanced age or other conditions that impair their financial decision-making abilities.

Conservator tasks could include budgeting, bill payments, investments, asset management and ensuring that the conservatee’s financial obligations are met.

Bottom Line

Conservatorships are legal arrangements that appoint a conservator to manage personal and financial affairs for conservatees who cannot manage their own affairs due to incapacitation, developmental disabilities or mental health issues. Types of conservatorships include general conservatorships, limited conservatorships, Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) conservatorships, probate conservatorships and financial conservatorships, each tailored to address the specific needs and circumstances of the conservatee.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • A financial advisor can help you create an estate plan for your specific needs. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Before deciding to go through the estate plan process on your own, make sure you understand the potential dangers of DIY estate planning.

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