How Much Does a Conservatorship Cost?

Last Updated on June 28, 2024
Written by CPA Alec Pow | Content Reviewed by Certified CFA CFA Alexander Popinker

When an adult becomes unable to adequately care for themselves or manage their financial affairs due to advancing physical or mental incapacity, establishing a court-ordered conservatorship often becomes necessary to protect their wellbeing and assets. But what is the full cost involved with this complex legal process?

This guide examines average fees for different types of conservatorships, mandatory expenses throughout the often months-long proceedings, and strategies for keeping costs contained without sacrificing protection for your loved one.


  • Anticipate $10,000 to $20,000+ in first year establishment costs, with attorney fees making up a large portion.
  • Recurring expenses for administration average around $5,000+ per year, sometimes more with major asset management.
  • Carefully research costs for different conservatorship types based on needs.
  • Keep costs contained through prudent professional selection andStreamlined procedures without sacrificing protection.
  • The conservatee’s own capital usually covers costs, but beware of quick depletion.
  • Alternatives like trusts or powers of attorney may satisfy needs at lower costs.

How Much Does a Conservatorship Cost?

On average, plan for initial conservatorship costs to range from $7,500 to $15,000 in attorneys fees, court costs, assessments, and related professional services. Then expect ongoing administration expenses of $5,000+ annually for care management, accounting, legal compliance, and associated conservator fees.

There are several primary conservatorship arrangements, each with typical cost ranges:

General Probate Conservatorship

  • For broadly managing all aspects of personal care and finances when mental incapacity prevents an adult from doing so themselves.
  • Fees often range from $10,000 to $15,000+ for establishment given the scope.
  • Ongoing administration averages $5,000+ annually.

Limited Probate Conservatorship

  • Designed specifically for developmentally and intellectually disabled adults who require some but not all personal care and financial assistance.
  • Typically costs $7,500 to $12,000 in initial fees based on more restricted focus.
  • Annual costs around $3,000 to $5,000+.

LPS (Lanterman-Petris-Short) Conservatorship

  • Used for gravely disabled adults unable to care for basic needs due to severe mental illness.
  • Usually runs $7,500 to $12,000 given specialized psychiatry involvement.
  • Ongoing administration averages $3,000 to $5,000+ per year.

More customized, contested, or complex conservatorship cases often cost $20,000+ in upfront legal expenses alone given the greater court time and filings required.

Mandatory Expenses to Establish a Conservatorship

The major startup costs involved include:

Court Filing and Hearing Fees – $300 to $1,500+ depending on county, petition type, and number of court dates.

Legal Fees for an Experienced Conservatorship Attorney – $5,000 to $15,000+ covers preparing the petition, documentation, representation at hearings, and sometimes assistance selecting the conservator.

Conservatee Capacity Assessment – $500 to $2,000 for a comprehensive medical, neurological, psychiatric, or geriatric evaluation.

Court Investigator Fees – $750 to $2,500 for required court investigator review, interviews, and recommending approval or denial.

Service of Notice Fees – $50 to $300+ for legally serving the proposed conservatee and family members.

Conservator Background Check – $100 to $500 for required screening through DOJ, FBI, and abuse registries.

Surety Bond Premiums – 0.5% to 4% of conservatee’s estate value if the court mandates bonding.

Miscellaneous Fees – Copying, document preparation, postage, professional consultation.

Total first year costs often reach $15,000+ for more extensive conservatorships when factoring in all of these steps and requirements.

AARP discusses the costs associated with conservatorships. According to the article, the costs can vary widely, but typically range from $1,000 to $10,000 to establish a conservatorship, and then $500 to $5,000 per year to maintain it.

The article notes that these costs can be a significant financial burden for the conservatee and their family, and highlights the importance of carefully considering the decision to pursue a conservatorship.

Nolo provides further details on the costs of conservatorships. The article states that the initial filing fees to establish a conservatorship can range from $200 to $400, depending on the state.

Additionally, the conservator may charge an hourly rate, which can be $50 to $150 per hour or more. The article also mentions that ongoing costs, such as court fees and the conservator’s fees, can add up quickly, potentially costing thousands of dollars per year.

Forbes offers insights into the high-profile case of Britney Spears and her conservatorship. The article notes that Spears’ conservatorship, which was in place for over 13 years, is estimated to have cost her millions of dollars in legal fees and other expenses.

The article highlights the potential for abuse and the significant financial burden that conservatorships can place on individuals and their families.

National Center on Disability and Abuse provides a more detailed breakdown of conservatorship costs. According to the website, the initial court filing fees can range from $300 to $500, and the conservator’s fees can be as high as $10,000 to $15,000 per year.

The website also notes that additional costs, such as legal fees, accountant fees, and the cost of a bond, can further increase the overall financial burden.

What is a Conservatorship?

A conservatorship is a protective court-ordered legal arrangement where a person, organization, or county agency is appointed by a probate judge to manage the personal care, medical decisions, living situation, financial affairs, and other needs of an adult who has been deemed unable to do so themselves.

This incapacity stems from advancing physical and mental conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, severe chronic mental illness, or disabling developmental disabilities.

Reasons for establishing conservatorship include:

  • Preventing physical harm or self-neglect when an individual can no longer care for themselves safely
  • Managing assets and paying bills the individual no longer understands
  • Ensuring vulnerable adults receive needed medical treatment
  • Protecting finances from fraud, abuse, manipulation, or risky behavior
  • Providing ongoing care and supervision a person requires but cannot arrange

Conservatorships require extensive court oversight, detailed mandatory reporting, and restrictions on the conservatee’s rights – so they should be used only as an option of last resort when an individual’s needs can no longer be met through less restrictive alternatives.

But when someone’s basic welfare is endangered through lack of mental capacity, conservatorship provides vital protections.

Ongoing Administration Costs

Recurring annual expenses to maintain a conservatorship include:

Conservator Fees

  • Around 1% to 4% of the conservatee’s estate value, depending on size and complexity. This compensates conservators for their time and liability. Family can request minimal fees.

Legal Fees for Accountings and Ongoing Court Needs

  • $1,000+ for attorneys to prepare and file mandatory detailed financial accountings and represent for any hearings.

Surety Bond Premiums

Care Management Fees

  • Hourly fees averaging $50 to $150+ for services like home care, geriatric managers, medical transportation. Varies by needs.

General Administration Expenses

  • Mileage, supplies, printing, postage. Varies widely.

Taxes and Investment Management

  • Accounting and financial fees range from $300 to $2,000+ depending on assets.

Ideally, the conservatee’s own estate fully covers costs when adequate assets exist. But some families contribute their own funds when assets are minimal.

How are Extensive Conservatorship Costs Paid For?

Conservatorship expenses are primarily funded through:

Conservatee’s Own Estate Assets – When substantial assets exist, attorneys fees, professional costs, and most ongoing care fees are paid directly from the conservatee’s capital. Liquidating some assets may be necessary to raise funds.

Family Member Contributions – When the conservatee has minimal income and assets, family often voluntarily contributes to ensure their loved one’s needs are met. But this places financial burden on others.

Reimbursement Requests – Upfront costs advanced by family may be formally requested and reimbursed from the estate once it is under conservatorship administration. Repayment is subject to court approval.

Government Medical Assistance – For very low income individuals, Medicaid or MediCal may provide limited financial assistance for portions of care and administration costs when strict eligibility requirements are met. But professional fees are generally not covered.

Ideally, the conservatee’s own assets can fully fund the proceedings when available. But in many situations, costs quickly deplete minimal resources. Families must be prepared for self-funding.

Reducing Conservatorship Costs

Every situation is unique, but potential avenues to limit expenses include:

  • Petitioning the court for a more limited conservatorship if suitable, as it requires less oversight and court involvement. But never cut corners on necessary protections.
  • Choosing a dedicated family member to serve as conservator rather than a professional fiduciary to avoid administrative fees. But consider time commitment and skillset fit.
  • Selecting an experienced, efficient attorney who can cost effectively handle required procedures and resolve matters in a timely manner to avoid delays and extra filings. But never prioritize bargain hunting over diligent expertise.
  • Assuming permissible financial and administrative responsibilities yourself rather than outsourcing to accountants and referral agencies. But be mindful of your own workload.
  • Purchasing surety bonds only when mandated by your state or court rather than out of an abundance of caution. Discuss secured alternatives like blocked accounts.
  • Utilizing streamlined accounting procedures like consolidating accounts, setting up automatic payments, and using Quicken to generate required reports.

Maintaining detailed billing records and carefully tracking expenses is also essential for managing costs efficiently while still fully meeting fiduciary duties.

Avoid the Need for a Conservatorship

Conservatorship ConceptLess restrictive options that still offer protection include:

Power of Attorney (Financial/Medical)

  • Allows the individual to appoint an agent to manage finances and medical decisions if they become incapacitated. Often less expensive to establish.

Living Trust

  • Assets are transferred into a revocable trust with detailed instructions for management if capacity is lost. Can be tailored to individual needs.

Advance Healthcare Directives

  • Designate someone to make medical choices adhering to stated wishes. Can supplement a trust.

Representative Payee

  • Allows another person to manage government benefits like Social Security and VA funds on someone’s behalf. Free to establish.

Joint Bank Accounts

  • Adding a co-owner provides access to pay bills if needed without needing conservatorship.

These options have tradeoffs and won’t be appropriate in all situations. But discussing them with an estate planning attorney can potentially avoid the full conservatorship process in some lighter incapacity cases.

Final Words

Yes, conservatorships carry very high filing, legal, and ongoing care administration costs. But families willingly take on the financial burden to ensure their loved one’s health, safety, comfort, and future security is safeguarded when no less restrictive options exist.

With extensive education on the investments required, conservatorships become a manageable process. Seek experienced legal counsel, contain costs reasonably, thoroughly investigate funding options, and consider conservatorship alternatives to make arrangements as budget-friendly as possible for your unique situation. In cases of true incapacity, families happily pay the prices to protect their loved one.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do most conservatorships last?

Many conservatorships tragically remain in place permanently until the conservatee passes away. But short term arrangements are an option if an individual has capacity restored and the court terminates the conservatorship, such as after a traumatic brain injury.

Duration depends entirely on the conservatee’s unique medical prognosis, future capacity potential, and court assessment of ongoing needs.

Why are celebrities under conservatorship?

Wealth and fame make conservatorships highly appealing for controlling celebrity assets and affairs, unfortunately creating motive for exploitation in some cases. Insiders allege Spears was misdiagnosed and coerced into an unusually restrictive conservatorship benefiting her father and attorneys.

Many argue major reform and oversight is critically needed to better protect against such conservatorship abuse of vulnerable adults.

Do conservators get paid?

Yes, both family and professional conservators have a right under law to “reasonable compensation” for their time, expenses, and efforts managing the conservatee’s needs and estate assets.

For family, this may be simple reimbursements, while professionals like attorneys earn much larger fees based on the estate’s value and complexity. All conservator fees must be reviewed and approved by the court overseeing the arrangements.

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