An important area of probate law, that is many times overlooked, involves the appointment of guardians and/or conservators for individuals. Both are fiduciary positions, and the appointees are held to a very high standard of care in exercising his or her duties. However, the duties and powers of a guardian and conservator are very different.
The most common guardian appointment is for the care of a minor who does not have a parent capable of providing them a safe and stable home life. These general guardianships will allow the guardian to oversee both personal needs like schooling, medical, extra-curricular activities, etc., as well as the minor’s financial matters if they do not involve a great amount of property. Today, the common situation has involved grandparents becoming the guardians of their grandkids.
Guardians are also appointed for adults incapable of handling their day-to-day personal needs. Many of these cases involve an adult with a disability or an elderly parent that needs assistance with day-to-day decisions.
A conservator is an individual who oversees the property of a protected person. The protected person (or Ward, as defined under most state statutes) can be a child or an adult. Common cases here involve an elderly parent who is exhibiting signs of dementia. These individuals often have an adult child appointed as his or her Guardian/Conservator to help with their personal needs as well as their property. As mentioned above, a conservator has fiduciary responsibilities for the care of the ward’s property, and is usually required to be bonded.
If you, a friend, or a family member, are considering a guardianship and/or conservatorship for someone else, you need to remember that it can be a lot of work. While, sometimes, a guardian or conservator can be compensated, many times it is a sacrifice. However, many of my past clients have found the job very rewarding.