Limited Conservatorship and Autism
August 8, 2017, was a big day in my little family’s life. This was the day that my mom, my oldest son, and I went and stood before a judge and made an oath to do what was best for Timmy for the rest of our lives and his life. You see as with any 18 year old, he or she has the right to make decisions that affect his or her life. Well, what happens when that 18-year-old has significant cognitive deficits, like my little man? Or you need to make a doctor’s appointment for your adult child, and the health care provider tells you, that you can no longer make medical decisions for your child. This is where limited conservatorship comes in and let me tell you it is a pain in the arse to complete, but it is necessary for adult children who cannot make appropriate decisions and more importantly, to protect him or her from other people who would prey on your child’s disability. For example, say someone convinced your son or daughter to get a credit card and buy a bunch of stuff that he or she could not pay for or your child gets very sick, or god forbid, runs off to Vegas and gets married. I don’t know about you, but I’m not putting my trust in an ordained Elvis impersonator to use sound judgment and stop a wedding by two questionable individuals.
A limited conservatorship doesn’t give you absolute control of your child; there are guidelines. The court still wants the conservatee to have rights and some forms of independence. Depending on what you ask for in the legal documents you can prevent your child from entering into any contract and or acquire massive debt. You can make the necessary medical or education decisions that your child may not be capable of handling on his or her own. Now the process of acquiring limited conservatorship for your child is tedious as I mentioned before, and there are about five options on obtaining limited conservatorship, according to what I know.
You can hire an attorney which will cost you a pretty penny - at least a few thousand dollars but could run up to several thousand dollars, depending on who you hire. However, hiring an attorney will save you time, he or she will write all the legal jargon in the court documents, and save you from all headaches of trying to figure it out on your own.
You could also hire an attorney to help guide you through the process and what that means is: you do all the paperwork, and the attorney reviews what you’ve written. The attorney corrects your mistakes and gives you timelines on when certain documents need to be sent and filed with the probate office - this costs around $800-$1000 in the San Francisco Bay Area and gets you about two visits with an attorney.
Then there is the organization, Parents Helping Parents of the Santa Clara county. They have a group of individuals who help you fill out the paperwork, and there is approximately a year wait so be patient. However, you have to live within the Santa Clara county in order for them to help you, because, surprise, every county has a few different forms and they can’t answer questions regarding legal documents in other counties.
If your child has Medi-Cal, you might be able to get an attorney to do it pro-bono, if you live in the San Mateo County try calling the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County for help. (http://www.legalaidsmc.org/pro-bono-program.html)
But if you’re like the rest of minions who live in the SF Bay Area, but not in the Santa Clara County and don’t have a disposable income after paying for your family’s living expenses, like me, you do it yourself. However, I did have some help. I had a friend who lived in the Santa Clara county who gave me a copy of her son’s documents from Parents Helping Parents, and I used it as a template. It took hours, HOURS to complete all the documents, but it was worth every hair pulling minute.
Now if you are wondering why can’t you start this legal proceeding before your child turns 18, you can. However, there’s always a, however, but, catch, or stipulation, the court will want to know all your financial information and you might be expected to pay for the $800+ processing fee. If you wait till your child is 18, the court only asks about his or her finances.
If you think that all you need to do is just turn in some documents, think again. You are ordered to notify immediate family members - grandparents, siblings, and other parent- of your intent and you need to provide proof of doing so. That gives them the opportunity to contest the proposed limited conservatorship. The court will also require that an investigator visit the home, to make sure that the proposed conservator/s are appropriately qualified to care for the conservatee. There will also be a visit by the court appointed attorney for the conservatee, he or she will advocate for the conservatee’s best interest and he or she will either agree or disagree with the proposed conservator/s intent for limited conservatorship.
After you granted limited conservatorship, there are a few minor hurdles, but the hard work is pretty much over. Once you are awarded limited conservatorship, I suggest taking a copy to your health care provider and have them put it into your child’s file. This will allow you to communicate with your child’s doctors, make appointments, and most importantly make medical decisions. While you are there handing in the limited conservatorship paperwork, they will most likely give you some paperwork regarding Advanced Health Care Directive. But that’s a conversation for another day. If you have detailed questions regarding limited conservatorship, please consult an attorney.