Family and Caregiver Schizophrenia Discussion Forum

Conservatorship: unmedicated and homeless sister

Hello everyone. My sister, age 52, has been unmedicated for many years. She does not believe she has any mental illness, but has been diagnosed and treated (on again, off again) for 20 plus years. In the past year, her situation has become dire. She is now homeless in Los Angeles. Her children live near by, but are unable to house her (they can barely afford their own small apartments, and she is volatile). They see her from time to time, but the last time they saw her, she did not believe they were her “real” kids. Apparently she checks herself into a psychiatric hospital from time to time, when she is suicidal. This coincides with when she runs out of funds from her SSI check (she has been on disability for mental illness for close to 30 years). She is losing weight, her hair is matted, and she is less coherant. She believes she is married to Elon Musk, and works for Donald Trump. We worry constantly about her, but she refuses any treatment beyond the short stay I’ve mentioned above.

I am looking into conservatorship as a way to insist she get back on medication. Also, I would be more able to get her off the streets. I live in Vermont, and have had her stay with me for a couple of months. She finally left, after a huge scene, and she won’t answer any calls any longer. I can not house her permanently as I live with my stepson who is developmentally disabled (autistic). He also requires full time care (he’s non verbal), and the stress of my sister’s illness isn’t manageable for long term housing to work.

Is it expensive to go through this legal process? What kind of documentation is needed? Any advice or shared situations would be appreciated.

Thank you.

It is fairly expensive, I imagine, everywhere. But there may be resources for this that vary from state to state. If you can get local advice, perhaps through a NAMI support group in your area, that could be helpful. Courts do not grant conservatorship (I presume you are referring to what I would call “guardianship”) lightly. You need documentation and as much history as possible that shows your sister cannot take care of herself…not that she doesn’t bathe, but that she is truly not able to care for herself and that her situation is getting worse (she has survived for all these years, even checking herself into the hospital from time to time, so just because you want conservatorship now is not a good reason). Losing weight could be indicative of that if her weight loss is dangerous to her health. You could call a couple different recommended attorneys and see what they will tell you upfront before you pay a retainer.

Thank you for your insights. I have a consultation with a lawyer later to discuss this. Isn’t it sad that I am hopeful that her suicidal thoughts (which she has shared with hospitals to get admitted) may be the only way to prove she is a danger to herself? I am hoping that it will be enough proof that she is in danger of hurting herself.

I have been reading on these forums, and it seems that the road is long. I wonder if it is 'worth" trying to gain this custody, as she will likely not comply with medication long term. Still, to imagine her talking to herself, sleeping outside, unable to bathe, etc is just more than I can accept. It seems the right thing to do is to try something.

These are good questions for the attorney. It is my understanding that a “guardianship” can at least allow you to say where the person lives. If they wander off, you can have them picked up and returned. It also allows you (if it includes the financial aspect) to use any money (SSI/SSDI) as you believe is best for the person’s benefit and the person cannot waste it or give it away.