Guardianship and Conservatorship What’s the difference?

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Generally, adults are capable of making their own financial and health-related decisions, but if an adult becomes incapable of making sound decisions, be it due to a physical ailment or mental illness, someone else will need to be in charge of making those decisions instead. This is where conservatorships and guardianships come into play. In both a conservatorship and guardianship, a court will appoint a substitute decision maker for an individual who does not have the capacity to manage his or her own affairs. While guardianships are designed to assist with personal and health-related needs, conservatorships are designed to assist with financial needs.


A guardianship is a legal relationship that gives one or more individuals the authority to make personal and health-related decisions on behalf of someone who has been deemed incapacitated or incompetent by a court. A guardian will typically make decisions about another person’s medical treatment, safety, and living arrangements.


While a guardianship gives one or more people the authority to make health-related decisions for another person, a conservatorship is a legal relationship that gives one or more individuals the authority to make financial decisions on behalf of an incompetent or incapacitated person. A conservator will typically manage another person’s bank accounts, investments, and other such assets. A conservator will also manage that person’s finances by paying bills, collecting debts, and managing cash flow in and out of his or her estate.

Difference between Guardianship and Conservatorship

In many states, a guardianship gives a person control over the personal, day-to-day decisions of a ward, while a conservatorship provides the authority to control another person’s financial decisions. However, in some states, guardianship is the term used when the ward in question is a minor, while conservatorship applies to the care of an incompetent or incapacitated adult. To best determine which term applies to your situation, you should look into how your state defines and applies both of these terms. Regardless of the definition, most states require an application or petition to the state courts to obtain the legal authority associated with conservatorship or guardianship.

Limited Conservatorship

Some states recognize the concept of a limited conservatorship, in which the court appoints a conservator the responsibility of caring for a conservatee, or an adult with developmental disabilities who is unable to take care of themselves either personally or financially. There are usually two types of limited conservatorship available:

Limited conservatorship of the person. The conservator is responsible for taking care of the personal needs of the conservatee.

Limited conservatorship of the estate. The conservator is responsible for taking care of the financial needs of the conservatee.

While one person might take on the responsibilities of both types of limited conservatorship, it’s also not unusual to have one person appointed the conservator of the person while another is given responsibility as conservator of the estate.

Legal Guardianship

While states often define the term guardianship differently, within the context of estate planning purposes, legal guardianship generally refers to designating a person in a will to have legal responsibility for the child or children of the person who made the will, in the event of the death of both parents. If you do not designate a legal guardian in your will before you pass, the court will decide what happens to your children. In addition to selecting a person you feel will take proper care of your children if anything happens to you, it’s also important to discuss your decision with the person you’ve chosen. Becoming a legal guardian comes with a lot of responsibilities, so you want to be sure the person you designate is willing to take on the role.

Temporary Guardianship

In some cases, parents may find themselves in need of a temporary guardian for their children. For example, if you and your spouse or partner will be out of the country for an extended period of time, it’s prudent to appoint a temporary guardian to take care of your children’s needs, both personal and financial, while you are away. Application can be made to the courts to appoint a temporary guardian, but depending on the jurisdiction in which you reside, you may also be able to appoint a temporary guardian on your own by using a letter of guardianship. If you decide to do so, care should be taken in drafting the document so that it’s clear exactly what authority and responsibilities the temporary guardian will have. Regardless of whether the temporary guardian is appointed by the court or through some other means, temporary guardianships generally have a set time period during which legal responsibility over the child or children is granted. Once this time period is up, the temporary guardianship comes to an end.

Both conservatorships and guardianships are important concepts that should be addressed during the estate planning process. Because state laws vary in the way they deal with these terms, it is important to properly research the requirements of the state in which you reside and learn what term is applicable to your particular scenario.

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Is guardianship better than power of attorney?

Guardianship makes legal decisions for another person that pertain to their health and lifestyle. Unlike power of attorney, you are not permitted to manage their finances or legal matters but are authorised to make decisions relating to the person’s accommodation and medical care.

What is a conservatory over a person?

Conservatorship is a legal term referring to the legal responsibilities of a conservator over the affairs of a person who has been deemed gravely disabled by the court and unable to meet their basic needs of food.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. The content of this blog may not reflect the most current legal developments. No attorney-client relationship is formed by reading this blog or contacting Morgan Legal Group.

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