As people age, it gets more and more likely that they will face important medical decisions, sometimes involving life and death, which they will not be able to make for themselves.

Moreover, even people who were healthy may suffer a sudden illness or severe injury that leaves them comatose or simply mentally not able to decide the course of their own medical care.

California does have a process where people can put in place medical directives which can give doctors guidance as to the type of care they should provide. A medical directive can also nominate a trusted loved one to make critical decisions on that person’s behalf.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets around to making out these estate planning documents. Moreover, there could be a defect with the documents, or the person nominated as a health care representative could be unwilling or unable to serve.

In some cases, it may become clear that the representative is not acting in the best interests of the patient.

In such cases, a conservatorship may be necessary to protect the family’s loved one. A court-appointed conservator of the person may if allowed by the court order make important medical decisions on behalf of the protected person.

The conservator could also help with placing the person in an appropriate care facility. If the conservator also receives control over the person’s estate, he or she will also have permission to manage the person’s finances while the person is unable to do so.

Creating a conservatorship is a complicated legal matter which will likely involve a trip to court, even if the entire family agrees that the conservatorship is necessary. It is important to explore this legal option carefully.