Guardianship and Conservatorship Explained: Safeguarding Vulnerable Loved Ones

February 15, 2024
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It's a tough scenario that many of us could potentially face. What would happen if a loved one, incapable of managing their own affairs due to old age, a mental condition, or physical disability, needed support? This is where guardianship and conservatorship come into play. Understanding these roles and how they serve to protect vulnerable individuals is vital to safeguarding your loved ones.

The Basics of Guardianship and Conservatorship

Guardianship and conservatorship are legal mechanisms designed to provide protection for those who are unable to care for themselves. While there is some degree of overlap between the two, they do cater for different needs.

Established by a court, a guardian is appointed to oversee personal, daily decisions such as housing and medical care. On the other hand, a conservator is designated to manage a person's financial affairs, such as investments, estate, and bills. These roles can be assumed by the same individual or separate entities based on the requirements and circumstances.

When Guardianship or Conservatorship is Required

Frequent instances where guardianship or conservatorship is required involve older adults suffering from severe dementia, individuals with chronic mental illnesses, people with serious cognitive impairments, or minors with inheritance or lawsuit settlements.

It's crucial to understand that under these arrangements, individuals (known as wards) may lose significant rights, like making decisions about their healthcare or finances. Therefore, guardianship or conservatorship is generally considered as a last resort, when no other options like power of attorney or living wills can offer adequate protection.

Selecting a Guardian or Conservator

The court usually takes the responsibility of appointing a guardian or conservator. However, they often favour nominees from the family, close friends of the ward, or individuals named in previously executed documents (such as a Durable Power of Attorney), assuming they are competent and willing. Professional entities, like attorneys or trust companies, can also be considered. It's paramount that this person or entity is reliable, trustworthy and has the ward's best interests at heart.

The Process

The process for establishing guardianship or conservatorship can be complex, time-consuming, and emotionally draining. It involves doctors, a court hearing, and potentially ongoing oversight by the court. Costs involved can include court filing fees, guardian or conservator fees, and legal fees.

If you feel that a loved one might require a guardian or conservator, it is advisable to reach out to an experienced elder law attorney. They can guide you through the process, clarify what is required, and ensure your vulnerable loved one's rights are protected.


Guardianship and conservatorship play a crucial role in safeguarding our vulnerable loved ones. It’s a big decision and requires consideration and care. Make sure you understand the roles, when it is required, and the process involved to ensure the right decisions are made for your loved ones.