California Guardianship Dispute Attorneys

Helping Loved Ones Challenge Improper Guardianships

Guardianship is an important legal tool used to protect children and adults who are unable to meet their own needs. By appointing a guardian, the probate court invests a person with authority to make certain legal decisions on behalf of the person who needs protection. It also invests the guardian with certain legal responsibilities.

Unfortunately, violations of these legal responsibilities can result in harm to the very person the guardianship is designed to protect. The probate court has the authority to sanction or remove a guardian under these circumstances. Here, the experienced guardianship litigators at Hackard law explain exactly what responsibilities a guardian has, and how concerned loved ones can challenge the guardianship when these responsibilities go unmet.

What is a Guardianship?

Guardianship makes one person (the guardian) responsible for the care or financial affairs of a person who needs assistance (the ward). A ward can be a child younger than 18 who does not have the legal authority to conduct his or her own affairs. An adult who is unable to meet his or her own needs due to mental or physical limitations can also be a ward. California refers to this relationship as a conservatorship. A conservatorship functions in the same manner as a guardianship, with the conservator acting to protect the interests of the conservatee.

Section 1800.3 of the California Probate Code requires the court to make a specific finding that a conservatorship is the least restrictive alternative needed for the protection of the conservatee. This means that people who can meet their needs through social services, in-home care, and other methods may not qualify for the appointment of a conservator. Section 1801 creates different types of conservatorships.

A court may appoint a conservator to meet a ward's medical, residency, and care needs, or an estate conservator for a person who is substantially unable to manage financial resources or resist fraud or undue influence. And a court may order a limited conservatorship to meet specific needs for an explicit period of time. These limitations encourage the possible maximum self-reliance and independence on the part of the conservatee. Again, these provisions require the least restrictive conservatorships possible while still meeting the needs of conservatees.

Improper Use of Guardianships

Some guardianships-such as those based on lies made to the court-are improper before the court even orders them. Others do not provide the required notice to interested parties (such as parents or children of the conservatee). These violations should prevent the appointment of a guardian or conservator. Unfortunately, a court does not always know about these violations.

To secure conservatorships, some petitioners go to great lengths to conceal these and other defects. They may want to access the conservatee's finances or otherwise control the person. Whatever the reason, the California Probate Code prohibits such conduct. In some circumstances, it may also violate California's Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act.

Even with a properly obtained guardianship or conservatorship, the improper use of a guardian or conservator's authority can harm the person who needs protection. An estate conservator has fiduciary duties to the conservatee-so a conservator cannot act in self-interest or bad faith when managing estate assets. A conservator of the person has a legal duty to meet the conservatee's care needs. This includes appropriate medical care, residence, in-home care services, and any other needs that fall within the scope of the duties the court has assigned to the conservator. Failure to meet these obligations can leave a vulnerable person without the care needed to live safely.

A Guardianship Attorney Can Help Protect the Ward by Challenging an Improper Guardianship

Many legal remedies may address a guardian or conservator's improper use of authority. These remedies can also address improperly ordered guardianships or conservatorships. Concerned loved ones who hold legal standing (a doctrine that defines who has a legal interest in a case) can file a challenge in the probate court. Such challenges can attack:

  • The circumstances under which a court initially ordered a guardianship or conservatorship (for example, if the guardian lied to the court)
  • The conservator's ability to meet the care needs of the conservatee (for example, if the person in need of protection is not receiving adequate food or medication)
  • The propriety of the conservator's management of a conservatee's estate (for example, if a suspicious financial transaction greatly benefits the conservator)

A probate court that finds improper actions on the part of a conservator or guardian has different options for remedying the situation. For minor offenses or isolated incidents, the court may simply reprimand the guardian, and set specific orders for how to handle similar situations in the future. For more egregious conduct, a court may remove a guardian or conservator from office. Other eligible persons may then petition the probate court for appointment as a replacement guardian or conservator. An experienced guardianship attorney can help concerned relatives and loved ones explore these options to determine the best method of addressing improper actions by a guardian or conservator.

Experienced Guardianship Litigators to Help Protect California Wards

Ideally, guardianship is used to protect some of California's most vulnerable residents. Unfortunately, some guardians do not meet their legal responsibilities, and this can harm the wards that California law obligates them to protect.

The experienced California guardianship attorneys at Hackard Law can help you identify all potential legal challenges to a guardianship, effectively litigate these challenges, and defend against any arguments to your legal challenge. Call (916) 313-3030 from Santa Clara or (213) 357-5200 from Los Angeles (or from anywhere in California), or write to us online to schedule your free consultation with one of our guardianship litigators. Our Los Angeles attorneys also serve the entire state of California, including Sacramento, San Francisco, Alameda, and Santa Clara.