Assuming Conservatorship for a Family Member Who Needs Treatment for Anorexia

Contributor: Courtney Howard, BA, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

Filing for conservatorship is a serious, and sometimes necessary, measure when it comes to caring for a loved one with anorexia nervosa. It is essential to know the process and what is required before taking your first steps toward conservatorship and, in some cases, guardianship.

Eating Disorders and Money

Eating disorders have an undeniable connection with money and spending habits. Though little research has been conducted on this subject, any professional in the field will tell you that compulsive spending and financial irresponsibility are common symptoms of eating disorders.

Alternatively, some individuals are “financially anorexic,” as their spending habits mirror their restrictive relationship with food. They don’t feel they are worthy of eating food or spending money, so they punish themselves by doing neither.

As Theodore E. Weltzin, M.D., of Rogers Memorial Hospital confirms, “Males and females with eating disorders also share the same diminished abilities to think clearly. Eating disorders invariably lead to malnutrition, which produces fatigue, dizziness, hypoglycemia, and alterations in brain chemistry.

People with eating disorders frequently engage in impulsive, self-destructive behaviors that can lead to legal issues. They may spend large amounts of money on binge food, creating high credit card debt or bankruptcy.”

If your loved one is battling severe anorexia nervosa, you might feel it is time to take control of his or her finances to ensure this pattern of self-destruction ceases. In these cases, assuming conservatorship is common.

What is Conservatorship?

Conservatorship occurs when a loved one, or guardian, gains legal authority to manage another person’s finances if that individual, or ward, lacks the capacity to make sound financial decisions. The ward then has no control over releasing funds, which curbs impulsive financial decisions common within the eating disorder population.

Mother and daughter togetherThis is different than guardianship, which is the legal authority to make another individual’s medical decisions. Dr. Weltzin explains, “People with eating disorders… may require involuntary civil commitment for psychiatric treatment and guardianship for medical decisions. Such individuals are severely medically compromised, severely depressed, even suicidal and a danger to themselves and others.”

Though an individual cannot be “forced” into recovery from an eating disorder, there are ways to reduce the amount of harm the patient can do to him or herself. Being monitored 24/7 at a hospital or other inpatient facility is meant to keep the individual from engaging in self-harm and/or committing suicide. If therapy and effective medications are introduced, it could be a stepping stone toward recovery.

How to Start the Process

Laws on conservatorship vary in each state. It is important to know your state’s laws and regulations regarding assuming conservatorship in mental health cases.

Lady doing computer work onlineAnyone interested in assuming conservatorship for an individual with anorexia nervosa must obtain a court order in this regard. A court order can be obtained through various means. For example, in Los Angeles County, a concerned loved one must first request an evaluation by a mental health professional for grave disability resulting from the individual’s anorexia nervosa.

This includes the aforementioned fatigue, dizziness, and changes in brain chemistry. If deemed appropriate, the mental health professional must then provide a conservatorship referral to the Public Guardian’s Office.

In many states, guardians must file reports on a regular basis so the court has updated information on the ward’s physical and mental health. This allows the court to be aware of the ward’s status at all times and determine whether the conservatorship should be continued. A neutral third party might also be required to report on this status to ensure that it is unbiased.

Deciding Whether to Proceed

It can be confusing to decide whether to assume conservatorship over an individual’s finances. In other cases, this decision might be glaringly obvious. It is really up to you as a family member to determine what you think is best for your loved one’s future and see whether the court agrees.

If you decide to move forward with conservatorship, the first step is researching your state’s laws in this regard so that you can take the necessary steps. Your loved one will likely not be cooperative. Remember that this is the anorexia nervosa talking, and do what you need to protect your loved one from further financial devastation.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What resources were helpful to you in obtaining a conservatorship for someone struggling with the long term effects of an eating disorder?

Courtney Howard Image - 2-17-16About the Author: Courtney Howard is the Executive Assistant for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. from San Diego State University, holds a paralegal certificate in Family Law, and is a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. After obtaining her certification as a life coach, Courtney launched Lionheart Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching in 2015 and continues to be a passionate advocate for awareness and recovery.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 27, 2016
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