Skip to main content

The OARacle Newsletter

A new California law will make conservatorship a “last resort,” as noted in an article on the Disability Scoop website. Instead, it promotes alternatives to conservatorship, makes it difficult to set up conservatorships and easier to get out of them, and ensures that even when under a conservatorship, people have choices. The law, which becomes effective January 1, 2023, codifies the use of supported decision-making, enabling disabled people and the elderly to consult with others in order to make their own choices.

State assemblyman Brian Maienschein was inspired to write the bill, he said in an article in The Mercury News, because of the abuses he saw while clerking for a probate judge. Pop star Britney Spears’ widely publicized case highlighted the abuses that can take place in a conservatorship. Her conservatorship was dissolved in 2021 after a nearly 13-year long legal fight with her father, who was her court-appointed guardian.

When the court sets up a conservatorship, the judge in the case appoints a guardian or protector to manage a person’s financial and personal affairs, down to details of how they can live their daily lives, such as how they spend money and where they live. As noted on the Support Without Courts website, created by a coalition of groups that worked to pass the new law, the Spears case demonstrated just how easy it is to become trapped in a conservatorship and how difficult it can be to get out of one. If disabled people and the elderly are unable to advocate for themselves and do not have an advocate, they can be denied basic civil rights.

This new law corrects those flaws. Support Without Courts listed the law’s benefits:

  • Ensures decisions are made by the disabled person to the greatest extent possible, even when they are under a conservatorship, and asks the conservator to take the person’s wishes into consideration unless it endangers their health or safety.
  • Prevents unnecessary conservatorships by providing alternatives, such as supported decision making.
  • Requires courts to consider alternatives.
  • Creates a Conservatorship Alternatives Program to counsel potential conservatees who may benefit from alternatives.
  • Allows conservatorships to be dissolved without a court hearing if both the conservatee and the conservator agree to it.
  • Provides an easier way for conservatees to request changes or an end to their conservatorship.

In addition to California’s new law, 16 states and the District of Columbia have already passed laws recognizing supported decision-making.

Sherri Alms is the freelance editor of The OARacle, a role she took on in 2007. She has been a freelance writer and editor for more than 20 years.