When a loved one is not able to make decisions regarding certain matters, it often falls to a family member like you to step up and take responsibility. Both conservatorships and guardianships involve taking a protective role over another’s affairs. Either or both can protect people of any age.

Nevertheless, there are some very important differences between a conservatorship and a guardianship. Knowing which is most appropriate to the situation can help you when you are filing.

Conservatorship

A conservatorship involves taking care of someone else’s finances. The person over whom you have conservatorship is the “protected person.” He or she may have a disability or condition like dementia that causes confusion and makes him or her vulnerable to manipulation by others.

A conservator does not have custody over the protected person or take care of his or her day-to-day needs.

Guardianship

A guardianship involves taking custody of an individual. This may be a minor child, an elderly relative, or a younger adult with a disability. In any case, it involves assuming a caregiver role to ensure the safety and wellbeing of someone who cannot take care of himself or herself, known in legal terms as a “ward” or an “incapacitated person.”

Some situations may call for either a conservator or a guardian, while others may warrant both. It is possible for a guardian to also become a conservator, but it is not required.

You can petition to become a guardian and/or a conservator. To succeed, you must be able to demonstrate to the court that there is a need. When petitioning to become a guardian, this involves proving the individual’s incapacitation to the court. If you are petitioning to be a conservator, however, incapacitation is not relevant, so no such determination is necessary. Rather, you must demonstrate to the court that you can facilitate getting funds for a protected person who needs them. Conversely, you may need to prove that the property the protected person already owns requires management or it could go to waste.