Guardianship vs. Conservatorship: A Caregiver’s Guide
When a loved one becomes seriously ill or injured to the point where decision-making is difficult, it may be time to consider having a court appoint a guardian or conservator.
Before you begin the process of getting a guardian or conservator appointed, it’s important to know the difference between these two terms, and find the right fit for your loved one’s situation.
In many cases, whether you choose a guardianship or conservatorship for your loved one depends on what state you’re in. Some states only recognize one type of oversight, or the type of oversight that is assigned depends on the age of the individual.
Regardless, it’s important to know the difference between a guardianship and a conservatorship, and in what situations each is needed.
What Is a Guardian?
A guardian is a person appointed by the court to make healthcare and other decisions for an individual. These decisions tend to be of the non-monetary variety, although that is not a hard-and-fast rule of thumb.
In some states, guardians only are assigned to minors under the age of 18.
If a guardian is assigned by the court, some of the decisions that person can make include:
- Where the individual lives
- What types of healthcare treatment they receive
- What doctors the individual will see
- What medications the individual will receive
What Is a Conservator?
Different from a guardian, a conservator is a person who largely makes financial decisions for an individual who cannot make these decisions for themselves due to an illness, injury, or disability.
Some of the financial decisions a conservator can make include:
- Purchasing and selling real estate
- Purchasing and selling large property
- Paying for medical and other long-term care
- Paying for legal expenses
In most cases, conservators face court oversight when making certain major financial decisions. This can help protect the individual’s finances from mismanagement as the result of malice or incompetence on the part of the conservator.
When Are Guardians & Conservators Needed?
Guardianships and conservatorships are considered by the court when an individual is considered unable to make decisions as the result of an illness, injury, or disability.
If an individual is in a coma, for example, they are unable to make decisions regarding both their finances and their healthcare. This person requires a guardian and a conservator to manage their affairs.
Someone who suffered a major head injury, however, may be able to still manage day-to-day living and some decisions, but can no longer manage their own finances. In this case, the individual may need a conservator but not a guardian.
Who Can Be a Guardian or Conservator?
When it comes to appointing a guardian or conservator, the court’s first choice is usually a close family member such as a spouse, parent, sibling, or adult child. The reason for this is because courts assume these people know the individual best and can best predict their wishes and what’s in their best interest.
In cases where there are no close family members or no close family members suitable to do the job, other relatives or friends can be considered.
For situations where there are no relatives or friends suitable for the job, the court will appoint a neutral third-party. This person usually is a specially trained attorney who routinely handles matters of guardianship and conservatorship.
You do not have to live in the same location as the individual in order to be a guardian or conservator. The person appointed for the job can live on the completely opposite side of the world, but the court making the determination of who is appointed will always be local to the ward.
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