When you have a parent or other elder loved one who becomes incapable of making his or her own decisions regarding health care or finances, you may be wondering what you can do to help this person manage his or her personal affairs. Often, people facing similar situations choose to remedy the issue by establishing either a guardianship or conservatorship over the person in question, depending on what circumstances demand.

Just what are guardianships and conservatorships, and how can you tell which one your parent or other loved one might need?

Understanding guardianships

A guardianship, in relatively simple terms, is an established relationship between two parties that gives one of them the ability to make decisions relating to health or personal care on behalf of the other. To establish a guardianship over someone, a court must first determine that the person needing the guardianship is, in fact, incapacitated and therefore unable to make his or her own decisions.

Understanding conservatorships

A conservatorship, meanwhile, refers to a legal relationship that exists between two parties where one party has the ability to make financial decisions on behalf of the other. As is the case with guardianships, a court must first deem an individual incapacitated before a conservatorship can take effect. Once it does, the person in the conservator role has the legal ability to pay the other party’s bills, collect on his or her debts and otherwise manage the incapacitated party’s financial affairs.

In simpler terms, a guardianship gives someone the right to make personal and health care decisions on someone else’s behalf, while a conservatorship grants someone these same rights with regard to an incapacitated person’s finances.

In some cases, the same person can take on the conservator and guardian role, but in others, the duties go to separate individuals. Additionally, while some people express their wishes as to who they want to take on these roles before they become incapacitated, in other instances, a court can appoint someone to take on these responsibilities.