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What you should know about guardianships and conservatorships

Watching your parents grow older is difficult even under the best possible circumstances, but if your parent is also experiencing a decline in his or her overall physical or mental health, it can prove even more emotionally taxing. At some point, you may find that your loved one is no longer able to appropriately manage his or her affairs, and you may need to devote some consideration to giving the power to do so to someone else.

Often, older adults who are no longer able to care for themselves because of physical hardship, mental illness or what have you allow someone else, or have the courts appoint someone else, to take control over certain matters. A conservatorship is one such common arrangement and a guardianship is another, but there are some important differences that exist between the two.

Key distinctions between guardianships and conservatorships

When an older person has trouble making sound decisions relating to his or her health care, living arrangements and related affairs, for example, he or she may benefit from having a guardian, which is a person who has decision-making power with regard to these areas. An older person who is no longer capable of managing his or her financial affairs, meanwhile, may benefit from having a conservator, or a person who has authority over finances including debts, bank accounts and so on.

In some cases, the person who needs a conservator or guardian may have already named someone they wanted to take on the role, whether in a living will, durable power of attorney or what have you. In other cases, the court can appoint someone to take on either, or both, roles, on behalf of someone in need.

In summary, while guardianships and conservatorships both involve giving someone power to make decisions on behalf of someone else, the arrangement that may better suit your loved one’s needs depends on whether he or she needs financial or health care-related assistance.


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