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Conservatorship and Mental Illness: When to Let Go?

Nine years ago, I was appointed conservator of estate and person for my son Ben. I remember the court hearing well. Ben was in the middle of his first hospitalization for schizophrenia, refusing medication and wanted to be released.  The only way to keep him in the hospital, if he did not agree to stay voluntarily (and that certainly wasn’t happening), was to apply for conservatorship.  The hospital would then be legally required to keep Ben there – at least until the court date.

I remember the day well. Expert after expert, delivering the verdict: “Gravely disabled.” The words stung each time they were uttered, yet I knew it was true.

friends in field
When to Let Go and Stop "Helping"?

Ben tried gamely to defend himself, rallying his energies for a speech that was quite impressive for someone whose inner world was vying for his attention. Still, I got what I needed: the right to make decisions for Ben, to keep him in the hospital, to require that he take medication. The last two rights disappeared as soon as he was released, of course, but conservator status remained in place.

Each year since then, I have had to reapply for this status – and it has always been granted. This year, though, may bring change. I just got a call from a lawyer who has been assigned to get Ben’s take on this – and now he is questioning whether he wants me to continue in this role.

I am scared.

What to do? Well, we’re re-educating ourselves as to exactly what rights I have in this role, and whether Ben can truly function well without my supervision.  At the present time, things look great. Ben is taking his meds, is doing extremely well at the moment: part-time college, part-time work, and clean/sober years racking up.  But – just eight months ago he was wandering the halls of the psychiatric unit, once again “gravely disabled.”  Had I not waved those conservatorship papers in front of the hospital staff, I would not have been invited to participate in Ben’s recovery plan – and then where would we – would he – be?

For relatives of those diagnosed with mental illness, this issue of legal rights is very complex.  When Ben is doing so well, he doesn’t really need me. But – should crisis hit again – what then? Can I get him to sign a basic release of information form now, maybe a power of attorney for times of hospitalization, instead? Will that guarantee me my rights to be on his treatment team? Will he sign these now, while he is reasonable and balanced, in the hopes that I will never have to use them?

What have you done? Have you faced this decision in the past? How have you made sure of your rights to make decisions for your loved one, be allowed to access medical information when necessary, without conservator papers?

Open communication and teamwork between those diagnosed, their families/caregivers and healthcare provider is essential for better recovery. So – why does it become so hard to be on the team?

37 thoughts on “Conservatorship and Mental Illness: When to Let Go?”

  1. In need of guidance. My brother is 37 years old and is married. He was first diagnosed with Schizophrenia at age 19 while attending his first year of college. At the time my parents were able to seek treatment for him and he was eventually back on his feet and following his treatment plan, which included family counseling. A few years later, he met a girl (who is now his wife) and he spiraled out of control. He became distant with us (parents and siblings), unable to keep up with his personal grooming, was no longer medicated and lost his job. We were unable to visit him, our calls went unanswered and lost contact with him, its was as if he had suddenly shut everything and everyone out of his life; except his wife. I reached out to her, only to be told that he were not welcomed in his life and that she was all he needed. Soon our phone calls and door knocks went unanswered. She accused of being the cause of his illness and only she could make him feel better. We eventually resorted to reaching out to the local authorities (CA) to conduct a welfare check on him, but that was useless. We were told that regardless of his medical condition, he was adult and that as a married man his wife was entitled to decide for him. This battle went on for several months until one day my parents received a call from the hospital, my brother had been admitted and he as requesting to see them. My brother shared with them very disturbing events that had occurred . He described how, she deprived him from his medication and assured him that his condition would fade once he distant himself from us. She used his vulnerability and created a very evil image of us. She fabricated stories accusing us of wanting him medicated because we did not care for him, we didn’t understand him that way she did and God had placed her in his life to save him from us. The treating doctor further notified my parents that he appeared in great state of neglect and distress when he was admitted. They also disclosed that my brother had requested his wife not have access to him.
    Eventually my brother was released and he stayed with my parents fro a few weeks. He again south treatment and eventually he decided he and his wife would try to work things out. We supported his decision and we all decided to partake; after all his condition was not going anywhere. After a few sessions, the medical staff advised my parents that in order to make progress in this journey my brother and his spouse would need to distant themselves. He classified the case as a severe case of control over an ill person where manipulation had played a major role in his crisis. To this day, I ask if there was anything the doctor could have done to intervene in his behalf.
    Today my brother lives in a foreign country. He moved there 8 years ago after his spouse decided it was best for him to be away. Again, left us feeling powerless. These past years our access to him has been limited and most of the time dictated by her.
    Two days ago, my family received a call from his spouse. She called to tell my parents “Your son went crazy again and I cant find him”. My father flew in, and is there now. He located my brother and took him in to receive medical attention. He was found barefooted, and wondering the street yelling (my heart is crushed).My brother is stable again and was released to my father. Now, she is demanding to have access to him and wants my father to turned him over to her. She contacted me via phone last night and accused us of depriving her from her husband.
    We are in urgent need of guidance…….

  2. my son has been incompetent to stand and its almost three years, which is the longest they can hold him.the state hospital is doing a lps conservertorship,now does anyone know if the hospital let him come home, or will they put him in a board and care or will he get to come home.?

  3. my son was incompetent to stand trial and was in the hospital in ca. and they can only hold him for three years , which is up in oct. But in stead of just letting him out to come home the hospital is doing an LPS conservertership on him. Jesse doesn’t know consequences and for unknown reasons he says no when they try to get permission for them to talk to me . I visit him and exolain he needs to give his consent but he never has and for only his own personal reasons he also wont come to the phone either so I cant remind him about it. and now I only know about a court date and they are recommending LPS, which they will get .well some people have told me that they will make me the conserator and he will come home but I don’t trust the hospital ,Because my son has been short hospital stays about 20 times in the last 12 years ,He has been incompetent to stand trial before and he has also has been a state prisoner in a state hospital, and then as a mentally disordered offender for a total of three years and so I know he doesn’t have to be stable to be found competent , he only has to understand who the judge and lawyer are and there roles and assist the public defender ect. well I visit jesse and each time they didn’t send him back to court and said he was still incompetent I was shocked because in my opinion he was competent this whole last year, he was actually able to have a conseversation , I can ask him a question and he answers, and when he blurts out something not making sense, hell say oh that was just my imagination or hell say oh I was just joking. He hasn’t been able to do this since he was 19.He is a very sweet person , actually not a criminal at all but an uncle who made his life hell and felt crazy people shouldn’t live amonst others. but every charge jesses had was from this brothers lies. incredible but true but jesse had constant voices and lost the ability to communicate so he paid the price each time, Anyway I believe jesse may be in long term experimental drug which they don’t tell you and I believe they need him longer and will keep him some how even though hes not violent and there has been no incidences to my knowledge of bad behavior. I am thankful for the help but I want him home before he is institutuonlized where he wont be comfortable at home, and who even knows that when hes released they will change his medicine to who knows what, which when he was released from ataskadara he was unable to get the same medications and life went to hell and I feel when they are done with him ,the medication wont be approved yet and they will put him on something else and I will watch him fall apart again, and even if the meduicine is approved for the public we wont know which one because he does not know what he takes and I cant find out, so im scared to death of the outcome of all this and it really is true they are treated like mice , but I know someone has to test it, but what when it working then they take it away, this medicine works but gives him severe side effects, he has odd eye movement and blinks rapidly in spurts as if he cant control it . and I don’t know if he is aware of it. its like stuttering with his eyes and then his left arm has a tremor from the elbow down that never stops , very noticeable and I don’t know if he is aware of that either . but to me its worth the side effects, and that’s another reason I believe its an experimental drug because hes never had side effects before, does anybody have any advice on what I should do to get him home, oh by the way he has never received any government funds ,no SSI , general relief , he will get food stamps which comes with medical, we have just always sup;pled what he needed so everyone knows that I don’t want him home to get his ssi check because I have heard of people who let people live with them because they get their check. sorry this is so long, I coulc write a book, its everchanging and ive centered my life around him and his illness because he deserves this, hes fortunate that his voices , five, mostly make him laugh and they preoccupy all his time and he talks and talks and tell them everything he knows, neverending , when he does fight with the voices he locks him self in his room and it will sound like a war going on that will lasts for days and days and I cant go in and he wont come out and he will lose touch wuth all reality and that’s why he was 51 50 so many times , because he would literally be fighting for his life in that room , even though it wasn’t real for us , to him it is and I just as a [erson cant help him and each time hes hospitalized he would lose a bit of himself until he just didn’t communicate with people any more or what he said made no sense, the change is a mericle .jwhat should I do

  4. I have a 26yr old son. He is mentally delayed, & schizophrentic. I do have conservatorship & POA. He is living in a group home, however he is angered quickly which is one of the reasons i put him in the group home His dad recently passed in an accident also, and he breaks things, punces holes in the walls etc..at my house. The group home tries to take him out & do things with him as well but he is starting not to want to do anything and hv outburst with them. Is there anything i can do if the group home makes him leave. I cant have him back home due to he scares me and my other son. We are in TN. Thank you.

  5. My daughter is 38 years old, learning disabled and schizophrenic. She is currently hospitalized for the third time in 9 months. I cannot let her come back home again after this. My health is suffering and she refuses to go to a board and care home. I’m hoping that they will have to place her when released if I don’t allow her back at my house because I cannot handle her anymore.

  6. Can someone call me. My sister is schizophrenic and needs help. I don’t know what to do. She’s homeless and very ill. 619 908 0962

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