Home Articles Guardianships and Conservatorships: What’s the Difference?

Guardianships and Conservatorships: What’s the Difference?


Determining who will handle your affairs when you are no longer able to do so on your own is one of the most critical parts of end-of-life planning. Making and recording this decision before any significant decline in your physical or cognitive abilities gives you the power to decide both who will be making care-related decisions for you and who will be handling your assets.

If you make no advance specifications, guardianship and conservatorship will be legally appointed for you. This post is about the key elements you need to know about these two roles, including what makes them different.

What Is a Conservator?

People who are medically unable to speak for themselves or who lack the cognitive abilities to make their own decisions are known as “protected” parties. Conservatorship assigns a person or several persons to handle the responsibilities of a protected individual as it pertains to the payment of their bills, the arrangement of business affairs and estates, and any other important financial and property-related decisions.

Assigning yourself a conservator enables you to choose a party who you’re certain will approach this responsibility ethically and with great care.

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How a Guardian Is Different

When a protected person is no longer able to communicate their wishes or make sound decisions on their own, their appointed guardian can step in. Guardianship is a legal relationship that allows one or more individuals to make healthcare-related and personal decisions on the part of an incapacitated party.

When an elderly, ill, or injured individual becomes incapacitated and has not already appointed a guardian, one can be appointed by the courts. A guardian can make decisions concerning the living arrangements of the impaired, medical treatments and medical therapies, and the protected person’s general safety.

Given that many medical and personal decisions require financial support, conservators and guardians must be able to work together. They should always:

  • Consult with one another before making decisions
  • Agree upon a reasonable sum for the maintenance of the protected person’s basic living costs
  • Make every effort to include the protected person in the decision-making process
  • Maintain total transparency with each other regarding all financial transactions.

In some instances, both conservatorship and guardianship are assigned to a single individual by the protected party in advance of incapacitation. There are also times when a single individual will be appointed to both roles by the court.

You can click here to read more about guardianships and conservatorships and about how appointing yourself a guardian or conservator is preferable to having these roles set by a court.

What Happens When the Court Appoints a Conservator and Guardian?

When the court must appoint a guardian and conservator, the protected party is considered a ward of the court. For those assuming these responsibilities, the legal requirements of holding these roles can be time-consuming. Guardians and conservators must routinely report back to the court with updates on the actions they have taken, the condition and care of the ward, and any monies that have been spent.

While the court can also designate the same person for both guardianship and conservatorship roles, it is only done when the same person assuming both roles is deemed to be in the ward’s best interests.


There are many benefits of choosing to appoint your own conservator and guardian ahead of any illness, accident, or other life-altering events that might result in the loss of essential communication skills or severe cognitive decline. People who are diagnosed with progressive neurological illnesses are often encouraged to make these declarations early on.

This is also advisable for aging adults, anyone with significant assets to protect, and ultimately any person who wants to retain some control over their financial health and general care in the future. Taking the time to make this declaration enables you to choose the guardians and conservators you are comfortable with and who are genuinely prepared for the job.