Public Guardian Process

The Public Guardian takes care of people the Superior Court has deemed unable to care for themselves. Through a legal court process, the Public Guardian staff assumes total responsibility for a person’s life. This usually involves managing that person’s estate. The legal process to accomplish this is complex and often takes months to complete. This is because a conservatorship takes away a person’s ability to make his or her own personal and property decisions so it is considered a “drastic, last resort.” Given the scope of this responsibility, many checks and balances are built into the system to protect the rights of anyone who is considered for a conservatorship.

Probate Conservatorship

Probate conservatorships are for people gravely disabled due to a degenerative mental and/or physical disease. The Public Guardian’s involvement is initiated by a referral to our office. Any interested party can submit a referral for an investigation for Probate conservatorship. Referrals are obtained by calling the Public Guardian’s office and requesting one. Once we receive the referral, an investigation is initiated to determine if a conservatorship is necessary and appropriate; that is, if the person is substantially unable to provide for food, clothing, shelter or health care and that there a no less restrictive assistance options available or appropriate.

The Probate Investigator interviews the person being considered for conservatorship (the conservatee) and talks to concerned parties, including doctors, family, neighbors, friends, social workers, etc. The investigator reviews all pertinent reports and files. And, since a conservatorship is considered a last resort, alternatives are sought and the reasons they are not available or appropriate is documented. If the criteria for conservatorship is met, a written report is submitted to County Counsel, where the legal paperwork is prepared. County Counsel files the petition and is assigned a court date. In this interim period, the Court has its own investigator who interviews the client, reads the report and submits a recommendation to the judge, either agreeing or disagreeing with the need for conservatorship. A Public Defender is assigned to represent the proposed conservatee and inquire if they want to contest the conservatorship. If they do, the case may go to either a court or jury trial. This can prolong the process by many weeks or months. If the person agrees to the conservatorship, then a Superior Court judge will make the decision at a court hearing, based on all of the evidence presented.

If the conservatorship is granted, the Public Guardian Deputies manage the person’s care and finances. Since most of the Probate conservatees have progressive diseases, the conservatorship usually lasts for the length of the person’s life.

LPS Conservatorship

LPS conservatorships are for adults who are found to be “gravely disabled” due to a mental disorder. An LPS conservatorship is strictly for the mentally ill. Grave disability means that a person cannot substantially provide for their food, clothing or shelter. Unlike a Probate conservatorship, the referral for an LPS investigation can only be submitted to the Public Guardian by a psychiatrist through Santa Barbara County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services.

Once a referral is submitted by Mental Health, an LPS temporary conservatorship is established for 30 days. The sole purpose of the LPS temporary conservatorship is to complete the LPS investigation and present a written report to the court on whether or not a LPS conservatorship is recommended. The Public Guardian’s LPS Investigator ‘s process is similar to that done for Probate investigations. Clients and all concerned parties are interviewed and alternatives to conservatorship are sought. Unlike a Probate conservatorship, there is no Court Investigator involvement. Each proposed LPS conservatee is assigned a Public Defender to represent the client throughout the proceedings. If a conservatorship is recommended and the person contests, there will be a court or jury trial. If the person does not object, a Superior Court judge decides, based on the submitted evidence.

When the conservatorship is granted, the LPS Deputies coordinate care. Mental Health assigns a case manager who works in concert with the Deputy. The case manager makes all of the treatment and placement recommendations. The Deputy acts as responsible party and provides the legal and administrative oversight. LPS Conservatorships last one year. If the conservatee improves to the point that he/she is found to no longer be gravely disabled, then the conservatorship can be terminated at the annual hearing.