Guardianship vs. Conservatorship – What You Should Know

Guardianship vs. Conservatorship - What You Should Know

Guardianships and conservatorships are tricky legal processes. For many people enquiring about putting one of these systems in place, they have no idea where to start – unsure which one they should even be considering. These terms can be used differently state by state, so it’s vital that you look into the range of powers and responsibilities given to conservators and guardians where you live. But, to make things a little easier, here’s a guide to all the essential information you need to know.

This blog defines both guardianships and conservatorships, discussing what they are, who they’re for, and how one is put in place. For more personalized advice regarding your situation, contact J Mishkin Law today.


What is Conservatorship?

The term ‘conservator’ generally refers to an individual who is court-appointed to manage somebody else’s finances on their behalf. Conservatorships are granted when a person is unable to appropriately manage their own financial affairs due to injury, illness, or some other situation that has left them incapacitated. The specifics of what is required of a conservator entirely depend on the condition, needs, and financial situation of their loved one. Tasks that may be expected of a conservator include:

  • Paying bills
  • Paying healthcare expenses
  • Managing debt and debt payments
  • Managing government benefits such as Social Security or disability benefits
  • Handling budgeting and accessible funds
  • Managing different funds, such as investment accounts


What is Guardianship?

Guardianship is a legal role, assigned to an individual by the court. While conservators handle financial affairs, a guardian covers a larger scope of duties. Generally, guardianship plays a larger role in a person’s daily needs, making decisions to help care for a person unable to care for themselves. This could involve being tasked with responsibilities such as:

  • Transitioning somebody into an assisted living facility or nursing home care
  • Making healthcare decisions on their behalf
  • Choosing where they’ll live
  • Making executive decisions on important matters, not just limited to financial issues

Legal guardianship applies to a wide range of situations, not only in the case of illness, injury, or age leaving somebody incapacitated to care for themselves. A parent may appoint a legal guardian for their children in their will, for example, in the event that they pass away before their child is legally an adult. This would involve ensuring the child’s day-to-day needs are fulfilled, managing their education, and making medical decisions.


Who Needs Guardians and Conservators?

As court-mandated positions, guardianships and conservatorships are most commonly requested by family members who have reason to believe their loved one can no longer make their own decisions to care for themselves. If you believe someone else’s legal authority may be necessary for someone you love, and depending on their needs/abilities, you may be able to establish a conservatorship or guardianship. Here are some examples of reasons why people may need this extra help:

  • Cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia in an aging loved one
  • A family member has suffered serious injury or illness and can no longer manage their own financial or personal affairs
  • You have a child with severe disability or special needs who is now over eighteen and no longer legally under your care


How Do You Become a Guardian or Conservator?

An individual can become a guardian or conservator two primary ways. First, you may be appointed by somebody in their estate planning documents. Your parents may draft a financial power of attorney that names you as their conservator in the event of their incapacitation, or a sibling could name you as the legal guardian for their child in their will. Secondly, you could petition the court yourself to be named a conservator or guardian. Laws differ from state to state, but you can consult a lawyer for advice on how to navigate this process.


Contact J Mishkin Law for Personalized Estate Planning Advice

Knowing how to navigate these sorts of situations can be immensely difficult. When you believe a loved one may need help making safe financial and personal decisions, finding the right path for your family is essential. If you’re looking to learn more about conservatorships or guardianships, or whether you’re wanting to know if one may be right for you, we’re ready to lend a hand. Contact J Mishkin Law today to meet with an expert and discuss your situation.


Jonathan Mishkin

Jonathan D. Mishkin focuses his practice on tax/trust controversy, estate planning, taxation and closely-held business advisory services with offices in Portland, Bend and West Linn. Drawing on deep experience gained inside both large accounting firms and large law firms, Mr. Mishkin capably advises and counsels individuals, families and their businesses, and trusts/trustees.


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