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Guardians vs. Conservators

It's Katie again, and for today's post, we're discussing how to choose between appointing a guardian or conservator. Choosing the right support for a loved one who is unable to care for themselves can feel like an impossible balancing act. Straddling the gap between handling those things they cannot do for themselves while giving them some independence is difficult. Generally, installing the right legal aide is the best way to make sure these competing interests are met.

When deciding what kind of protection your loved one needs in an aide, there are many things to consider, including:


  1. What is your loved one’s personal capacity? If they’re a minor, they need someone else to have complete legal authority over them. If they’re an adult, how diminished is their capacity to care for themselves?

  2. What areas of life do they need supervision over? Education? Healthcare? Daily maintenance? Or, do they only need help safeguarding their finances?

  3. How extensive is your loved one’s estate?

  4. What is the difference between a guardian and a conservator?

  5. What combination of conservator/ guardian would your loved one most benefit from? Guardian only? Conservator only? Or do they need both?


Differences Between Guardians and Conservators

As we’ve discussed before, a guardian is a person (or an institution) who is given authority to act on behalf of a protected person (or a “ward”) as though they were that person. A guardian can be given a full guardianship over all aspects of the ward’s life, or authorities limited to certain areas such as health care, education, or finances.

A conservator is given authority only over the ward’s finances. Like a guardian, a conservator must be appointed by a court order. However, unlike a guardian, a conservator cannot make personal decisions for their ward.

Conservator’s Duties

Once appointed, a conservator becomes the trustee of the ward’s estate, which includes their income (wages, social security, annuities), their real property (a house, other buildings, and land), as well as stocks, bonds, retirement funds, etc. In fact, once appointed, and unless specifically limited, a conservator has all of the authority given by law to conservators, additional authority given to trustees, and the authority of the protected person, except the power to make or change a will. This amounts to a lot of power. Thus, when acting on behalf of the ward, a conservator must act as a prudent investor would.

A conservator’s duties and powers include:


  • Managing the ward’s income

  • Continuing or participating in the operation of the ward’s business or enterprises

  • Making necessary estate payments

  • Organizing and protecting the ward’s assets

  • Appraising and safeguarding the ward’s property

  • Making prudent investments

  • Paying or contesting any claims against the estate

  • Regularly reporting to the court


The list above is by no means exhaustive. Because a conservator does have so much power, their authorities and responsibilities are highly regulated. An in depth conversation about these powers is outside of the scope of this blog post, but must be understood and tailored to the specific needs of your loved one in order to best serve them.

Deciding What Is Best For Your Loved One

If your loved one is able to care for themselves in every area other than their finances, they might only need a conservator. If they need help in other areas of their life, they probably need a guardian. If their capacity to care for themselves is diminished and they have an extensive estate, they might need both a guardian and a conservator.

We understand that deciding how to best care for those who you are responsible for might seem complicated and daunting. We can help you balance the choices that you have with the needs of your loved one. Email me at katie@skvlegal.com, or click the “Book Online” tab today to set up a free consultation.