Guardianship and Conservatorship is a topic that is becoming more frequent. In short, a guardianship is when someone (the guardian) is appointed by a county probate court to be in control of another individual’s “person”. That other individual is referred to as the “ward”. The guardian in a full guardianship is responsible for handling all of the ward’s non-financial matters. In some limited circumstances, the guardian may even control the ward’s finances. A Conservatorship is when someone (the conservator) is appointed by a county probate court to be in control of another individual’s finances. If you have no estate plan in place and are unable to handle your own affairs for some reason, your family will need to go to court and go through one (or both) of these processes so that someone can be appointed to handle your affairs for you.
Guardianship and Conservatorship are different than having general and healthcare powers of attorney in place. Powers of attorney give you the ability to appoint someone to handle your affairs if you are unable or unwilling to do so yourself. That sounds a lot like a guardianship or conservatorship. The difference is that powers of attorney do not take away anyone’s power. Even though you grant someone power to help with your financial and/or medical decisions, that does not take away your power to continue to handle your affairs for as long as you are able and willing to do so. A guardianship or conservatorship does take away your power to handle your affairs.
This is why I so often say that powers of attorney are not given the emphasis that they deserve. They can help keep your family out of court and keep you from having to deal with the potentially embarrassing and costly situation of having a public court process determine who handles your affairs when you are unable to do so. It’s also why comprehensive estate planning is so important. It is one thing to have a Will and/or Trust . . . but a truly comprehensive estate plan makes sure that you are taken care of and your affairs handled how you want while you are still alive.
As always, if you have any questions, please make sure to give us a call!