How is guardianship different from conservatorship?

People often ask us, “What is the difference between a guardianship and a conservatorship in California?” In many ways, the two accomplish the same goal. Both are a process where the courts give someone legal authority to manage another person’s affairs. However, the duties and responsibilities involved vary between the two, as does the age of the person the court seeks to protect.

Guardianship ensures care for a minor

A guardianship gives control of a minor child’s affairs to someone other than their parents. The guardian can be a relative, a family friend or a professional appointed by the court. Their responsibilities can include caring for the child and managing their financial affairs, or just one of the two. Usually, a guardian ensures:

  • Adequate food, clothing and shelter
  • A safe living environment
  • The child has access to education
  • Proper management of assets or inheritance

Essentially, the guardian takes on the same legal responsibilities as a parent. They make decisions on behalf of the child and care for them.

Conservatorship manages the care of an incapacitated adult

If a court finds an adult can no longer manage their affairs, they can appoint a conservator to make decisions on that adult’s behalf. Conservatorships often provide care for older adults who can no longer manage on their own. However, those who are suffering from a catastrophic injury or illness, or someone who is developmentally disabled, can benefit from conservatorship as well.

A conservator:

  • Manages wealth and property
  • Ensures daily living needs are met
  • Makes decisions about medical care

Just like guardianships, a family member, friend or court-appointed professional can take on a conservator role.

Both conservatorships and guardianships can be set up long before they become necessary. Parents with young children might create a guardianship that would take affect if both parents died. Those with aging family members or loved ones with disabilities can establish a conservatorship at any time. Establishing a guardianship or conservatorship can be an emotional, challenging process. Working with an attorney experienced in estate planning, trusts and other care planning can help.