One of the most popular areas of research among attorneys and the general public at the Indio branch of the Riverside County Law Library is probate law. The library offers some easy to follow guidebooks for those representing themselves and several resources that delve into specific matters of interest to professionals.
We have also been fortunate for the last two months to offer a probate self-help clinic staffed by the Riverside County Superior Court. Self-represented residents of the county, regardless of income, can make a free appointment at a probate clinic and meet with a paralegal or attorney for individual help preparing paperwork and answering questions.
On the first day of the clinic I was surprised to see that help was provided not just for estate planning issues but in obtaining elder abuse restraining orders, guardianships of children, and conservatorships of adults. Many families in the county are seeking knowledge about conservatorships as they care for elders in declining health or young adults who are not able to care for themselves.
The court website provides basic information on the three different forms of legal conservatorships, all of which must be ordered by a judge in probate court. A general conservatorship is used for adults who cannot care for themselves due to physical injury or dementia; a limited conservator is appointed for a developmentally disabled adult; and the third is what is known as an LPS Conservatorship named for the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act which allows a person who is gravely disabled due to mental health issues to be kept in a secure inpatient facility for a limited time. This type of conservatorship can only be petitioned by the county’s public guardian after a person who is held in an inpatient psychiatric unit is deemed a danger to self or others if released. The implementation of this law nearly 50 years ago was hailed as a groundbreaking first step to end mass institutionalization of the mentally ill and ensure that their rights were being protected. However, some believe deinstitutionalization can lead to an increased number of people with mental illness who are unable to access support and become homeless.
A new law California signed by the governor in 2018 seeks to address this issue. Designated SB 1045, the law focuses on people who have serious mental illness or addictions and who are resistant to voluntary treatment. SB 1045 would provide coordinated services such as supportive housing and treatment to individuals who have been repeatedly placed on involuntary psychiatric holds or jailed due to behaviors resulting from mental illness or addiction and who are also chronically homeless. This new type of conservatorship expands the scope of the LPS act in that it could be initiated by several public entities and the person need not be deemed in immediate danger, just incapable of caring for themselves. This is still a narrow criterion and few people are expected to be placed in this type of conservatorship. However, there is controversy about this law as some disability and civil rights activists object to increasing the circumstances under which people can be deprived of liberty. For the first five years the law will only be in effect in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco counties. After this pilot program develops there are plans to expand it state-wide.
The decision to seek a conservatorship for whatever reason is an extremely emotional one for loved ones and the assistance of the professionals staffing at the probate clinic are a great resource. We are happy to offer another clinic at our Indio location in May and hope to continue this and similar programs in our convenient location for the surrounding community for the foreseeable future.