For the most part, adults have the right to make their own financial and healthcare decisions. Unfortunately, when physical or mental illness strikes, some need help to make those decisions. If such a situation arises, the court will appoint a substitute decision-maker to assist with these needs.
The Difference Between a Conservatorship and a Guardianship
The primary difference is that a conservator focuses on a person’s financial needs while a guardian focuses on health-related needs.
A conservatorship is a legal relationship that gives one or more individuals the authority to make financial decisions for the incompetent person. They might manage the person’s bank accounts and investments. The conservator is in charge of paying bills, collecting debts, and managing the cash flow of the owner’s estate.
What Are the Limits of a Conservatorship?
A conservator only has authority over the financial aspects of an individual. They cannot force the incapacitated person to move, take medication, attend doctor appointments, or undergo medical treatment.
While the conservator organizes the payment for medical treatments and care, they do not schedule these appointments or oversee them.
A guardian is legally responsible for a person’s personal and health-related decisions deemed incompetent by the court. They make arrangements and decisions regarding a person’s medical treatment, safety, and living arrangements.
Are There Decisions Guardians Cannot Make?
A limited guardianship is different from a full guardianship. A limited guardianship leaves the incapacitated person with more freedom to make their own decisions on matters not explicitly appointed to the guardian by the court. A full guardianship means the incapacitated person loses the right to make most decisions.
Guardians do not have the authority to place an incapacitated person into a nursing home or mental health facility against that person’s will. However, they may ask the court to order an involuntary commitment.
Situations may arise when children need a legal temporary guardian. For example, if parents have to travel outside of the country, a guardian will take care of the child’s personal and possibly financial needs.
Once the specified period is up, the guardianship automatically ends, and the guardian no longer has legal responsibility for the child.
Alternatives to Conservatorships and Guardianships
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney grants the legal rights and powers of one person to another, allowing them to act on behalf of the incapacitated person. They can act for them on financial, business, or medical matters, depending on the agreement.
Representative or Protective Payee
This person is appointed to manage Social Security, Veteran’s Administration, Railroad Retirement, welfare, or other state or federal benefits paid on behalf of the individual.
Also known as a living trust, a revocable trust allows an older person to give a relative, friend, or financial institution the responsibility for their assets should they become incapacitated.