If you suffer an illness or injury that leaves you unable to care for yourself, you’ll need someone to handle your affairs on your behalf. This is when a guardian and/or a conservator would be appointed for you. What’s the difference between the two?
A guardian is a person who’s appointed by the court to take care of your personal interests and day-to-day care. Some of the things a guardian might decide for you are where you’ll live and what kind of medical care you’ll receive. A guardian is also responsible for making sure that your needs for food, hygiene, and other daily requirements are met, either by providing these things or by hiring someone else to do it.
A conservator, on the other hand, is a person appointed by the court to manage your finances and property if you can’t do so yourself. Examples of things a conservator would handle include your bank accounts and investments as well as making decisions about selling your property in order to fund your care.
The same person may be appointed to serve as both your guardian and your conservator, or there might be two different people appointed to fill these roles. Also, a corporation or a state agency may be appointed as either guardian or conservator as well.
The main disadvantage to the court appointment of people to make decisions concerning your care and your finances is that, once you’re incapacitated, you have no say as to who performs these functions. One way to avoid the need for a guardian or conservator is through estate planning. There are several ways to plan ahead and give people you trust the authority to handle your affairs if you’re incapacitated. Documents such as a Living Trust and Advanced Healthcare Directives are essential tools when planning for incapacity. An estate planning attorney can offer guidance as to which of these estate planning tools might work best in your personal situation.