There are many different situations in which a person may need additional help making decisions or caring for themselves. Whether an individual is assigned as a power of attorney or guardian, their duties are relatively similar but the reasons for doing them are very different.
When a person becomes a guardian, they are responsible for caring for another individual found to be incapacitated. The guardian is put in charge of making important decisions regarding the individual's financial, medical and legal care. While guardians are usually family members, the actual guardianship is a legal relationship and can only be assigned by the courts. Every state has its own rules regarding guardianships, however most states require that guardians get approval from the court for certain decisions.
If an individual is concerned that they might someday become incapacitated, they may choose to assign a power of attorney. This document gives decision making power to a trusted individual, in the event the creator of it needs one. While the power of attorney is given the power to act on behalf of the assigning individual, their decision making power is generally for financial affairs alone. The actual duties of a power of attorney can be spelled out in the document and include or exclude anything the creator of it wishes.
There is an understandable amount of hesitation when assigning a power of attorney. With a power of attorney, the creator of it chooses who will act on their behalf. While in a guardianship, the court chooses an individual to act on the other's behalf. For individuals considering assigning a power of attorney or concerned that they may need a guardian later in life, knowing the difference and how they are appointed may help them choose between assigning one themselves and waiting.
A power of attorney document can be an effective addition to your estate plan. With the help of an attorney, you can decide which options are best for you.