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How guardianships and conservatorships differ

Watching your parents age is often difficult, and it can prove particularly so if they are also struggling with memory loss, health problems, mental illness and similar issues. Over time, such issues can, in some cases, hinder an older American's ability to carefully consider important matters and make sound decisions on his or her own behalf. If this describes your particular situation, you may be wondering whether it might be time to establish a guardianship or a conservatorship over the parent in question.

While both guardianships and conservatorships involve assuming decision-making power over an incapacitated person's affairs, there are some clear and important distinctions that exist between the two.

Understanding guardianships

If a court has determined that your mother or father is no longer able to make his or her own decisions, regarding health and personal care, you may want to step in and try to establish a guardianship. A legal guardian has the ability to make personal and medical decisions on the incapacitated party's behalf. He or she also often has a hand in making decisions regarding, for example, where the incapacitated party will live and who will care for him or her moving forward.

Understanding conservatorships

Ultimately, a conservatorship differs from a guardianship in that, while a guardian assumes decision-making power when it comes to someone else's health and personal care, a conservator does so in the area of finance. A conservator will, for example, typically handle the incapacitated party's financial affairs, which might include paying bills, collecting debts and otherwise managing the estate.

Sometimes, the incapacitated party may have already expressed who he or she wants to assume the guardian or conservator role, should the need arise, while, in others, a court will make such a decision. In some cases, the same person will assume the role of both guardian and conservator over the same incapacitated party.

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