Conservatorships for Disabled Children

In most states, the terms “Guardianship” and “Conservatorship” are one and the same; interchangeable. California, however, has a very clear distinction between the two.

A guardian is someone who takes care of a child under the age of 18 when the child’s parents are deceased or incapable of properly caring for the child.

A conservator, on the other hand, is someone who must take care of certain aspects of a child’s life once they turn 18 (or become a legal adult) because they are developmentally disabled.

Developmental Disability

Being developmentally disabled means the individual has been diagnosed with an ongoing disability (i.e. autism, cerebral palsy, or epilepsy) prior to turning 18. Some disabilities excluded as reasons for setting up a conservatorship include brain trauma, depression, and anxiety disorders.

Types of Conservatorships

There are two types of conservatorships: general and limited.

A general conservatorship strips the disabled person of all individual autonomy. Basically, it eliminates their civil and legal rights, removing their ability to make decisions on everything from finances, healthcare, and education.

In a limited conservatorship, the developmentally disabled individual retains most of their civil and legal rights. Instead, the court appointed conservator may only have control over specific aspects of the person’s life, which may include the individual’s living arrangements, ability to access confidential records and enter into contracts, social and sexual relationships (including marriage), healthcare, and education.

The Dangers of Conservatorship

The goal of a conservatorship is always to appoint a trustworthy, responsible person as conservator. However, because anyone over the age of 18 can become a conservator, this isn’t always the case. Half of all conservators in the U.S. are strangers, usually someone from the California Department of Developmental Services or a paid professional. Also, if a conservator dies, the judge will select a new conservator regardless of who the deceased conservator may have wanted to succeed them.

Because of this, conservators may easily take advantage of the conservatee, whether financially, emotionally, or physically. Though there are safeguards when it comes to finances, many people still find ways to exploit the conservatee for financial gain. Conservatorships also do not protect against sexual or physical abuse, nor do they offer protection if a conservatee is arrested.

Minor Conservatorships

Though conservatorships in California are generally meant for adults, there are a few exceptions. When both biological parents die, a guardian will be appointed to care for the child’s health, education, and general well-being, but a conservator may be appointed to care for the minor’s financial estate, especially if they receive certain assets and property as part of a will or trust. A conservator may also be setup for a minor if the child needs specialized care the parents are unable to provide.


With all of this in mind, conservatorship should always be a last resort. Setting up a power of attorney or hiring an advocate for decision-making may be better options for your specific circumstances. Call King Law Firm Attorneys at Law, Inc. to discuss your options.

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