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The Heritage Law Center, LLC Blog

Guardianship vs. Conservatorship: The Differences

POSTED ON: April 27, 2021

older man and son

A guardian or conservator is appointed by the court when a person has been determined to be mentally or physically incapacitated (even temporarily), or when a minor is in need of an adult to manage their property and assets. People who need this type of care are called “wards.” If the ward is an adult and has created advance directives like a health care proxy and a durable power of attorney, those documents would likely eliminate the need for a guardianship or conservatorship.

Although people often use the terms interchangeably, guardianships and conservatorships are two different roles. Each role has certain decision-making authority for the ward. Sometimes the same person serves in both capacities. There can be more than one person serving at the same time as the guardian or conservator, called co-guardians or co-conservators. The party named to serve if the original choice is unavailable or unwilling is the successor guardian or successor conservator.

You can talk with a Massachusetts conservatorship and guardianship attorney to learn more, and the attorney can help you file the proper papers with the court.

An Overview of Guardianship

The guardian makes day-to-day, personal decisions about the care of the ward. The powers of a guardian are limited to what the court permits them to do. The guardian can typically make decisions for the ward about the following:

  • Nutrition and hydration: The ward needs to receive plenty of high-quality, nutritious food and liquids to stay healthy. Dehydration is a common problem in long-term care facilities, so guardians need to look for the warning signs.
  • Medical care: This category can include doctor appointments, therapy, prescription drugs, and other medical needs.
  • Health insurance issues: The guardian often handles things like choosing an in-network health care provider, while the conservator pays for uncovered expenses.
  • Education: The choice of schooling for the ward lies in the hands of the guardian. In the situation of a minor child, the guardian would fill the role of a parent, attending parent-teacher conferences and participating in things like Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings.
  • Shelter: The guardian has the responsibility of ensuring that the ward has a safe, clean, appropriate place to live.
  • Entertainment: The guardian can arrange entertainment, like taking the ward shopping or to the movies.
  • Travel and transportation: Wards usually can’t get themselves from one place to another independently, so they need help with transportation on a daily basis and for the occasional trip or vacation.
  • Activities: The guardian should try to keep the ward involved in activities that provide physical activity and socialization while respecting and encouraging the ward’s interests and preferences. 
  • Clothing: The guardian needs to make sure that the ward has appropriate, suitable, comfortable, attractive clothing.
  • Grooming: Sometimes it’s necessary to hire home health care to help with the ward’s personal hygiene and grooming.
  • Well-being and happiness: It’s essential to treat the ward with the compassion, kindness, respect, and dignity that you would want to receive in the same circumstances.

This is only a partial list of some of the duties of a guardian.

What a Conservatorship Involves

The powers of a conservator are also limited to what the court permits them to do. In most cases, standard  conservator powers permit  the conservator to handle financial matters for the ward. Some examples of these tasks include:

  • Managing the ward’s bank accounts and investments
  • Paying the bills out of the conservatorship funds
  • Handling Social Security, disability, pension, and retirement income
  • Exploring whether the ward qualifies for other types of benefits on his own record or as the dependent of someone, such as veterans and other disability programs or public assistance
  • Protecting the ward’s financial interests from creditors, other third parties, and the ward
  • Dealing with income tax and other tax issues on behalf of the ward
  • Filing the appropriate financial reports with the court on a timely basis

Depending on the circumstances, the conservator might have additional duties.

Cooperation Is Key

The guardian and conservator need to work together amicably. Neither one can do the job efficiently without reaching an agreement on budgetary items. While the conservator holds the purse strings, the guardian is the one who “minds the store” day in and day out. Some topics, like health insurance issues, can require both parties to work well together.

As a Massachusetts conservatorship and guardianship attorney, I can help you set up a guardianship or conservatorship for your loved one. Call us at 617.299.6976 or contact us using this online form to schedule a free consultation.