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Conservatorship is a vital tool for treating mental illness

Probate courts in Connecticut provide the vital role of the access point for many citizens to the legal system. Beyond this function, the courts are also part of enforcing public safety, protecting people from each other's lack of capacity and – in some cases – themselves.

Mental illness may be identified by doctors and mental health professionals, while probate courts are the forum for discussing and adjudicating a person's inability to be responsible for his or her own care and actions. By appointing conservators, the probate court opens the door for psychiatric hospitals and other qualified institutions to take responsibility for seriously ill people.

This action is called "civil commitment," and it is different from conservators appointed by people who are concerned they will lose a current mental ability after the appointment. Physicians or psychologists examine a person and offer an opinion to the court, which then rules on the subject's care.

Civil commitment can happen on an emergency basis, when an immediate threat is apparent or on an involuntary basis, for long-term purposes when a person is unaware of his or her illness. If litigation is necessary on the subject, probate court is the forum where commitment can be modified, extended or terminated.

Committed people are entered into the Mental Health Adjudication Repository, which is used to prevent incompetent people from owning firearms and engaging in other possibly dangerous practices. The probate court works with other Connecticut authorities in maintaining and enforcing this database.

Family members and other interested parties in adjudications may wish to retain legal representation so their interests have a fair hearing. It is always important that incapacitated people and their loved ones get the status they deserve.

Source: Westport News, "Letters: Need for female leadership is clear, Probate Courts play a critical role in gun safety," March 11, 2018

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