Our Members Roles in Serving Californians

Public Administrators, Public Guardians and Public Conservators act under the authority granted by the California Superior Court. We have provided a brief outline of each role to better understand what our members do each day when serving California’s most vulnerable dependent adults and decedent estates.

Program Roles

The Public Administrator function handles the disposition of deceased estates. The Public Administrator serves the public by investigating and administering the estates of persons who die with no will or without an appropriate person willing or able to act as administrator. The Public Administrator’s primary duties are to protect the decedent’s property from waste, loss or theft; make appropriate burial arrangements; conduct thorough investigations to discover all assets; liquidate assets at public sale or distribute assets to heirs; pay the decedent’s bills and taxes; and locate persons entitled to inherit from the estate and ensure that these individuals receive their inheritance.

The Public Guardian function is carried out via Probate Conservatorships, which assist individuals who are substantially unable to provide for their own basic needs, (food, clothing, and shelter). Probate Conservatorships are primarily established for adults who cannot care for themselves or manage their own finances. This type of conservatorship is often used for older adults with severe limitations and for younger people who have serious cognitive impairments.

The Public Conservatorship function is performed via an LPS Conservatorship. This type of conservatorship is named for the three Assemblymen who sponsored the original bill – Lanterman, Petris and Short Act. LPS conservatorships are established to arrange mental health treatment and placement for people who are unable to provide for their food, clothing, shelter, and treatment needs, as a result of a mental disorder. LPS Conservatorship provides a legal framework for the delivery of services to individuals needing psychiatric treatment, but who are unwilling or unable to accept it.

County Program Structures

Each county in California has the discretion to organize its’ Public Administrator, Public Guardian and Public Conservator (PA, PG, PC) functions in whatever manner it wishes.  The following are some examples of possible county organizational structures for the three functions.

  • Public Guardian is organizationally part of a Social Service, Adult & Aging, or Senior Services Department
  • Public Conservator is organizationally part of the Department of Mental Health
  • Public Guardian is combined with the Public Conservator function and part of a larger department, such as the Department of Mental Health, Department of Health & Human Services, Department of Behavioral Health Services, or Department of Health Care Services, etc.
  • Public Administrator, Public Guardian, and Public Conservator are all together and organizationally part of a larger agency such as Health & Human Services, Agency on Aging, Behavior Health Services or Department of Health Care Services etc.
  • Public Administrator, Public Guardian, Public Conservator are all together and is an independent/stand-alone department

Our Members in Action

Here are a few stories shared by our members that showcase the ways in which they benefit our communities. It is the little things that make the biggest impact in the lives of those we serve.

The San Joaquin County PG/PC’s Office is fortunate to have staff members that have big hearts and deep compassion for the people they serve. As an example, one of the counties DPGs handles all of our Probate conservatees and is often seen with shopping bags of new clothes as she’s heading out to visit her clients. She sees them as people, not just as clients, with true needs. Many of them only have $35.00 per month to spend on necessities. So she shops for them and never says a word about it to anyone.

Two other DPGs check cupboards and refrigerators during their investigations and often find little food to eat. Both of them will regularly stop at grocery stores and purchase fresh food and staples that the referred clients desperately need out of their own funds, never once thinking that this is an extraordinary act of kindness. To them, it’s just the right thing to do.

And finally we have our storekeeper who is responsible for inventory and real property checks and maintenance. This man is a U.S. Army veteran, with a contagious laugh and a heart of gold who has gone out of his way to assist one of our more difficult homeless rep payee clients. Our storekeeper checks on him daily and every Friday picks him up from his spot and takes him to a truck stop. There, he pays for the client to have a warm shower, buys him food, clothing, cigarettes, and new wheelchairs whenever the client breaks his. We see his kindness to our client, but he never talks about what he does to sustain a person in need. He does it because he cares.

From a DPG that purchases basic care necessities to Investigators and Storekeepers that regularly purchase groceries and prepare meals for their clients all out of their own pockets – these random acts of kindness from everyday folks who follow their hearts when working with their clients is what it truly means to work in a Public Guardian/Conservator’s Office.

Abdul did not have a happy childhood. His Santa Clara County PG/PC Deputy Assistant (DPGA) was visiting and asked if there was anything he would like, given the small amount of funds in his LPS account. Abdul, who rarely asked for anything, said his birthday was approaching and mentioned that he had never had a birthday party and a little cake to share with those in his board and care would be nice. Touched by his simple request, the DPGA kicked into action and with the help of the facility organized other clients to join in a surprise party.

When Abdul’s birthday arrived he was stunned to see a room filled with colorful balloons, a birthday cake, and best of all, a rousing and unmelodious rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” from friends and staff. Abdul was overwhelmed with happiness and christened the day as the “Best Ever”!

Margaret was in the hospital recovering from surgery, when her granddaughter, Tisha, deceived her into signing a general Power-of-Attorney. Unbeknownst to Margaret, Tisha executed the Power-of-Attorney and granted title to Margaret’s home to the grandfather, Margaret’s estranged husband, and Tisha’s mother, Margaret’s estranged daughter. Upon Margaret’s release from the hospital, Margaret arrived at her home only to discover she would be denied entry and access, because it no longer was hers, but occupied by Tisha and her mother.

Margaret went to a shelter and then rented a small studio, which exceeded her monthly income. Her health deteriorated as she stopped necessary prescriptions and stressed over her granddaughter’s betrayal and her looming homelessness. Her plight was reported to Adult Protective Services (APS) as a financial abuse case. As a member of the Financial Abuse Specialist Team, the Public Guardian  deputy worked with Margaret in seeking solutions and discovered that Margaret was a veteran. Acting closely and diligently with the Veterans Administration (VA), the deputy was able to identify and secure alternative housing for Margaret, who served honorably in the United States Navy. The proposed conservatee was given shelter at the Homeless Veterans Emergency Housing Facility, where she will continue to reside for two years. After the duration of her stay, Margaret will receive a free housing voucher to assist her with re-establishing and rebuilding her life.

Living now in a safe, supportive, affordable, and comfortable living environment, she expresses gratitude and has regained the dignity that she feels she lost through the betrayal of loved ones. With free medical and dental benefits and a reduction in stress, Margaret no longer feels hopeless and can care for herself, without conservatorship. She rests assured that there are those, like the PAGC and the VA, who are there to help in times of despair.

Mark and Karen, a married couple who had never spent more than a few days apart during their decades together, had become ill and found themselves separated due to circumstances beyond their control. For months they were receiving treatment for their respective illnesses miles apart from one another. Devastated by their situation and inability to be together, they depended on Probate Deputies and Estate Administrators, who worked tirelessly to reunite the aging couple.

Together, the team at PA|PG|PC began to piece together a solution by developing an estate plan, organizing 24-hour caregivers and preparing their home for Mark and Karen’s return. When everything had come together, the couple were overjoyed to be reunited. All smiles and tears, Mark and Karen said of their Deputy, “She is the one who brought us home and we are so grateful!”

Samantha had a long history of homelessness and wandering when she was referred to PA|PG|PC by the Santa Clara County main jails inpatient psychiatry unit. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, this intelligent, college-educated woman had succumbed to her illness, which led to the deterioration of her relationships with her family, poor self-esteem and living on the streets.

With the help of her PA|PG|PC Deputy, Samantha developed goals while in treatment and gained insight into what was needed to remain independent within the community. When PA|PG|PC staff assisted her in obtaining benefits, they discovered that she was entitled to over $17,000 in Social Security back payments. With the skills she developed, the benefits she now receives and money to get back on her feet, Samantha was released from conservatorship and has continued to be successful, living independently in an apartment she found on her own.