California LPS Mental Health Conservator’s Guide

If you have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness and have been deemed seriously disabled by a qualified professional, you may be placed under what is known as an LPS conservatorship. inewsource compiled this guide to help people, including those with severe mental illness and their loved ones, navigate the complex legal process.

Conservatism is not for everyone inewsource report are part of a faulty system. The legal process takes some of the most important life decisions a person has—where to live, if and when they can leave, and medical treatment—and places them in the hands of others.

This guide provides resources for those interested in learning more. The reporter is not a mental health expert or an attorney. Readers should consult health and legal experts for additional advice.

About the conservatorship of LPS

  • What is an LPS conservatorship?

There are different types of conservatories in California. LPS conservatorships, named after the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, is a legal process that deals with people who have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness specified in state law. This includes schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, clinical depression and others.

This type of guardianship is different from testamentary guardianship.

Under an LPS conservatorship, someone else can make financial decisions and arrange for a person to undergo treatment, such as medication. Often, a county public guardian or similar office can serve as a conservator.

Officials must place a person in the least restrictive environment, but if they deem it necessary, the conservator may be kept in a locked facility.

Interim conservatorships last up to 30 days, and counties use that time to explore whether a longer-term agreement is needed. What is known as a permanent guardianship lasts for up to one year and can be renewed through the court every year.

The LPS Act also regulates short-term involuntary psychiatric detentions, such as 72-hour detentions, known as 5150s, and 14-day detentions, known as 5250s.

Who is eligible?

To be considered for an LPS conservator, the person must be diagnosed with an illness listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, such as:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Clinical depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Chronic alcoholism

The person must also be considered severely disabled, meaning they are unable to take care of basic needs such as food, clothing or shelter as a result of their disorder and are unwilling or unable to accept treatment voluntarily.

How can someone be placed under guardianship?

State law limits who can initiate a conservatorship. It’s not as simple as calling the county and saying your loved one should be considered for one, and a person being found severely disabled doesn’t automatically put them under guardianship either.

Conservatorship proceedings usually begin during shorter-term psychiatric detention. Sometimes a person is hospitalized several times.

A qualified professional must assess the individual before referring the case to the public guardian’s office. If the individual is incarcerated, the attending physician in the prison must initiate the referral.

In San Diego, these petitions are handled by the county office of the public conservator.

The county then conducts an investigation to determine whether the person is a danger to themselves or others and is severely disabled, as well as possible alternatives to conservatorship. If investigators determine that a guardianship is needed, the county can petition the court, which has final approval on whether to establish a guardianship.

People being considered for guardianship have the right to an attorney and can request a trial to determine whether they are seriously disabled.

Where can I go for help?


  • California Disability Rights: The nonprofit agency is designated under federal law to advocate for Californians with disabilities, including conservatorship issues.
  • Jewish Family Service: Among the agency’s services is its patient advocacy program. He observes and works with people receiving behavioral health services in inpatient psychiatric units and other facilities.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness, San Diego and Imperial Counties Chapter: NAMI San Diego works with family members and their loved ones with mental illness by providing services such as support groups and advocacy.
  • San Diego County Office of the Public Conservator: The Office of the Public Conservator receives and reviews petitions for LPS conservators. It determines which ones are referred to the court for final approval.

Other resources

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This undated illustration describes the conservatorship process.

inewsource investigative reporter Jennifer Bowman reported this story while participating in the USC Annenberg Center for Health JournalismCalifornia Scholarship 2022 A native of San Diego, Bowman has been in charge of local government for more than a decade and has worked at inewsource for almost three years. She usually reports on southern San Diego and Imperial counties.

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