Conservatorship or Legal Guardianship?: How Do You Know When It’s Needed?

When a loved one reaches a point in his or her life where, due to either old age or disability, he or she cannot effectively care for personal, medical and financial matters, it may be wise to consider a legal guardianship or conservatorship. These are court-ordered legal relationships in which an appointed person or persons, called a “guardian” or “conservator,” is charged with attending to the personal or financial needs of another, called the “ward” or the “conservatee.” In the context of elder law, a spouse or child is typically appointed as legal guardian or conservator and vested with various powers as determined by the court. A guardian may now perform asset preservation planning.

The appointment of a legal guardian is something that’s not taken lightly by the court because after a case review, the ward is stripped of many decision-making powers. However, the legal guardian will be limited to only those decisions that will meet the level of the ward’s incapacity. Some of these may include, but not be limited to:

Choice of where the ward resides
Acceptance or denial of medical care
Control of food, clothing and shelter
Control of financial and contractual affairs
Estate and asset preservation planning
Restriction of ward’s civil rights and personal freedom