For many adults in California and elsewhere, one of the saddest moments is when they realize their parents need their help. This may be a little thing, such as becoming disoriented in their own kitchen, or it may be a sudden change like an accident, medical event or terminal diagnosis.

Whether your parent already needs comprehensive assistance or you anticipate such a need won’t be long off, you may benefit from understanding some options available to help you and your loved one through this difficult time. If your parent is facing the possibility of becoming mentally incapable of managing his or her own affairs, you may need to seek conservatorship.

What responsibilities will I have?

With a court-ordered conservatorship, you have the authority to provide for your loved one’s needs and take responsibility for your parent’s obligations. Unless your parent’s estate plan includes designations such as power of attorney or advance healthcare directive, you will need a court order to manage his or her affairs. Although you may need court approval for some tasks, conservatorship may allow you to do the following:

  • Determining what to do with your loved one’s car and other belongings
  • Deciding whether to sell the house to finance your parent’s care
  • Paying your parent’s bills
  • Filing tax returns for your parent
  • Deciding the most appropriate living arrangements for your parent
  • Obtaining the necessary medical and personal care for your loved one
  • Investing or designating others to invest the liquid assets in your parent’s estate

An important part of your responsibilities will be reviewing your conservatorship with the court each year. Your annual report will give you the opportunity to inform the court of the status of your parent’s estate and update the judge on any changes in your loved one’s mental or physical condition. You will also be obligated to describe any plans you have for your parent in the upcoming year, such as moving him or her from your home to a nursing facility.

You want to make every effort to provide the best possible care and attention for your parent. With a conservatorship, you will have the ability to protect your loved one and his or her estate from anyone who may seek to take advantage of your parent’s vulnerable condition. For the best chances of gaining this important duty, you may benefit from the assistance of an attorney as you petition to be your parent’s conservator.