Guardianship or Conservatorship: What’s the difference and why should I care?

People often make decisions during the course of life because of circumstance, desire, or impulse.  When it comes time, however, for people to make these decisions on behalf of another person (concerning their medical or financial welfare), these decisions are often made with hesitation, doubt, and despair.  These issues often arise when a loved one, or a close friend, is or becomes incapacitated.  Incapacitation, for the purposes of guardianship and conservatorship, include times during a person’s life when, among other events, a person becomes severely or terminally ill, has mental disorder, is physically disabled, uses drugs chronically, is an alcoholic, has been detained by the state, or has disappeared.  The information below provides a concise understanding of the some of the more important distinctions between guardianship and conservatorship of an incapacitated person and why either guardianship and conservatorship is applicable to a certain situation.  The differences between a court appointed guardian and a conservator, include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following.

A guardian is someone a court appoints to make most life decisions for a physically or mentally incapacitated person.  The relationship between the incapacitated person, defined by a court as a “ward,” and the appointed guardian is most analogous to that of a parent and child, although the court may limit certain powers.  Generally, however, a guardian’s authority over a ward includes decisions made on behalf of the ward that relate to the financial affairs, living arrangements, medical treatments, and other personal care options.  The guiding principle which governs the actions and/or decision making process for a guardian must always be the best interests of his or her ward.

A conservator, on the other hand, is someone a court appoints to oversee the financial affairs of an incapacitated adult.  The incapacitated person, similar to the definition above, is also a “ward” of the court.  The main responsibility of a conservator is to pay the bills for his or her ward and manage the ward’s property.  The authority of a conservator extends to how his or her ward spends their money.  This authority, however, differs from that of a guardian because a conservator’s authority is limited only to the ward’s financial affairs.  For example, the conservator is not able to make decisions for, among other things, living arrangements or medical care. A conservatorship may be appropriate in lieu of a guardianship in circumstances when, for example, a person is suffering from addiction and spending all of his or her money on the addiction. Though a guardianship may be too extreme, the conservatorship would allow a conservator to handle the ward’s finances until he or she is able to adequately handle his or her own.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding guardianship or conservatorship, or need help establishing rights implicated by the aforementioned appointments, contact The Carroll Law Firm at 623-551-9366 at your earliest convenience.


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