In some cases, people may not be able to make some decisions for themselves. This could be due to age or mental or physical limitations. In these cases, a conservator may be appointed. Definitions of conservatorship or guardianship can vary by state, but in many cases, a conservatorship handles financial matters and a guardianship handles day-to-day activities.
What Is a Conservatorship?
A conservatorship is a legal process often put in place by a court to help someone who may not be able to manage their own affairs. The exact role of a conservatorship can vary depending on state law and the needs of the person. A conservatorship may be put in place to handle financial, medical or other daily-life matters. It’s common for a conservatorship to be put in place for a person, but conservatorships can also be assigned for corporations or organizations.
Conservatorship vs. Guardianship
There can be some confusion regarding the terms conservatorship and guardianship, since both can refer to someone taking care of another person. Especially in informal settings, the two terms may be used somewhat interchangeably. In some states, a conservatorship is set up to handle the financial affairs of another person, while a guardianship is used to handle more day-to-day and personal matters.
In states or situations where both terms are used, it is possible that the same person can be appointed both a conservator as well as a legal guardian. If you’re not sure what term might apply for your specific situation, check with your local or state authorities. In most cases, you will need to apply for and be granted either conservatorship or guardianship by someone with the appropriate legal authority (like a judge).
Types of Conservatorships
There can be several types of conservatorships, depending on the specific situation of the potential conservatee and the state where they reside. Here are a few of the more common types of conservatorships:
- General Conservatorship — in a general conservatorship, the conservator becomes responsible for all decisions and assets of the conservatee.
- Limited Conservatorship — in some situations, a person may be able to handle some affairs but requires a conservator for other matters.
- Financial Conservatorship — a financial conservatorship is where the conservatee is able to handle their regular day-to-day affairs, but requires outside guidance for financial matters. This is one type of limited conservatorship.
Who Needs a Conservator?
The person who manages a conservatorship is called a conservator. The person whose affairs are being managed is usually called a conservatee. There might be several scenarios where a conservatorship makes sense. One might be a child who does not have parents to manage their affairs. Another situation might be an elderly person who no longer has the ability to take care of their estate. People with physical or mental limitations, or a disability, might also benefit from having a conservator.
What Does a Conservator Do?
A conservator is someone who has been entrusted to care for and look after some or all of the affairs of another person or organization. In some states, conservators are legally considered fiduciaries, which means that they have a legal obligation to consider and act in the conservatee’s best interests, regardless of their own well-being. The exact duties of a conservator will depend on state law and the specific situation of the conservatee, but may include:
- Managing the conservatee’s finances and making financial decisions for the conservatee
- Paying the conservatee’s bills
- Keeping records of transactions they make on behalf of the conservator
- Take care of the basic and day-to-day needs of the conservatee
- Provide food and shelter to the conservatee
- Keeping the conservatee safe and healthy, if necessary
The Bottom Line
A conservatorship is a legal term that refers to a person (typically referred to as a conservator) managing some or all of the affairs of another person or organization (the conservatee). Some conservatorships are general or complete, while others may be limited in scope. In either case, the conservator has an ethical (if not legal) responsibility to act in the best interest of the conservatee. Someone managing a conservatorship may have several responsibilities, including providing food and shelter, taking care of the conservatee’s day-to-day needs and managing their money. While there are some similarities between a conservatorship and a guardianship, there may be specific legal differences depending on state law and the specific situation.
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