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What is the difference between a guardianship and a conservatorship?

We all want to protect our loved ones. When our family members are no longer able to care for themselves, be they grandparents, adults with special needs or children, their protection becomes a high priority. In Colorado, legal guardianships and conservatorships are in place for precisely these situations.

Talking to a lawyer is the best way to truly decide what steps are best for you and your family. But, a basic understanding of guardianships and conservatorships is vital.

Understanding guardianships

Your grandson has special needs. He loves basketball and Disney. Last month, he got his first job bussing tables. But, he struggles to do basic tasks like cooking and cannot live independently. He turns 18 years old in six months, and while you are so proud of how far he has come, you worry--he cannot take care of himself.

Guardianships are a legal relationship where the petitioning adult (you) becomes legally responsible for the well being of the person cared for. Guardianships are similar to parenthood. The guardian has the legal ability to house their charge, care for their medical needs and provide for them financially.

Guardianships are often thought of in terms of children whose parents cannot care for them. However, guardianships are also options for special needs adults and the elderly. If your loved one cannot care for their own basic needs, a guardianship may be appropriate.

What is a conservatorship?

As your loved one ages, you begin to notice that they are forgetful. Documents go missing. Bills go unpaid. When you finally get them to the doctor, the medical staff tells you the inevitable--your loved one needs help. They can no longer manage their finances.

Conservatorships are a financial relationship that puts a conservator in charge of another's financial needs. While the protected person is no longer solely in charge of their expenditures, they retain independence and the ability to make key decisions around subjects like their medical care.

The world is changing. Longer life expectancy and better medical care means your family members will live longer and get better care, but also that they may need more help. Seek out an attorney's advice if you are considering guardianships or conservatorships.

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