Conservatorships are often necessary to protect the incapacitated who did not prepare powers of attorney identifying agents to speak for them. The court may appoint conservators of the person to be in charge of their personal needs, physical health, food, clothing and shelter. Conservators of the estate may be appointed to take responsibility for identified financial matters.

The court usually selects a conservator from a list of relatives or close friends who have requested appointment. If they lack certain skills or if family disputes or allegations of abuse arise, the court may appoint a licensed professional fiduciary.

The Professional Fiduciaries Bureau of the California Department of Consumer Affairs was established to assist people unable to represent themselves. These fiduciaries are licensed professionals who have met certain education and experience requirements and passed a state-mandated competency exam. They must file periodic accountings with the bureau and court for each person they represent.

Under California law, professional fiduciaries’ decisions must not only attempt to reflect their clients’ needs, but also promote their best interests.

The court may order professional fiduciaries to find and maintain proper residential placement, quality care and treatment services for conservatees.  It will also direct fiduciaries to do all that is necessary to protect the conservatees from physical, emotional or financial abuse.

If the court determines that their services are no longer required, they will take all reasonable steps to facilitate proper completion of outstanding matters.

Legal documents such as powers of attorney for health care and financial matters, as well as living trusts, often take the place of conservatorship proceedings.  These documents make it possible for people to plan ahead by choosing a family member or friend, or even a professional fiduciary who will charge a reasonable fee, to represent them should they become incapacitated and lose the ability to speak for themselves.

For more information on professional fiduciaries’ services, visit the Professional Fiduciary Association of California at pfac-pro.org.