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The difference between conservatorships and guardianships

When you have a parent, spouse or other loved one who is aging and experiencing a decline in his or her mental or physical health, you may have cause to establish a conservatorship, a guardianship or both over this individual. While conservatorships and guardianships are somewhat similar in that they both require that someone step in and assume decision-making power over someone else, they are distinctly different in some important areas. Understanding how they contrast can help you figure out whether a conservatorship, a guardianship or both may be necessary.

So, what are the primary differences between conservatorships and guardianships?


If you take on the conservator role on behalf of someone else, it becomes your responsibility to manage the incapacitated party’s finances. You will typically gain access to this person’s bank accounts, financial holdings and so on. It will likely become your responsibility to pay this person’s bills, collect on his or her debts and so on.


While the conservator role is specific to financial affairs, the guardian’s role is typically a bit broader. Once you assume the role of a guardian over an incapacitated party, you gain the authority to make personal and healthcare-related decisions on this person’s behalf. What types of decisions may you need to make? You may, for example, have to decide where you think the person over whom you act as a guardian should live. It will likely also become your responsibility to make medical decisions on the incapacitated party’s behalf.

When it comes to determining who will serve as a guardian and conservator, this will depend on several circumstances. In some cases, an individual decides in, say, a living will, or with a power of attorney, whom he or she wants to assume one or both roles before he or she becomes incapacitated. In other cases, deciding who will adopt these roles becomes the court's responsibility.

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