Some people use the terms guardianship and conservatorship interchangeably. While these two roles are similar, as they appoint someone to make decisions on behalf of a party that is incapable, they focus on different aspects of that person’s life.
Understanding the difference in these is important as you age and as your parents age.
If someone is deemed incompetent or incapacitated by the court, someone is appointed to make health decisions on their behalf. This is a guardianship. The guardian makes decisions regarding the individual’s safety, living arrangements and medical treatment.
A conservator is assigned to make financial decisions for another party. When someone is named as a conservator, they will manage the incapacitated or incompetent person’s bank accounts, investments and other financial assets. The conservator is also responsible for paying the individual’s bills, managing cash flow and collecting debts.
Understanding the law
The same person can serve as a guardian and conservator. It’s also possible for you to designate whom you want in these roles through your medical power of attorney, durable power of attorney or living will. This type of pre-planning will ensure that the individual you wish to have to handle your healthcare and financial decisions does this.
Sometimes, the court will appoint different people for these roles if it is determined to be in the best interest of the incapacitated or incompetent individual.
Understanding your rights
Understanding the difference between conservatorship and guardianship is important when creating an estate plan. While you can name these individuals in your estate planning documents, they can be challenged, and the court may appoint a different individual. Understanding your legal rights in this aspect is important, which will help you better understand how to ensure your wishes are followed.