What is the Difference Between Guardianship and Conservatorship in Massachusetts?

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The terms guardianship and conservatorship are sometimes used interchangeably, particularly in the media and in pop culture. However, guardianship and conservatorship serve different functions.

There are similarities between guardianships and conservatorships in that they both involve the appointment of one person to help manage another person’s affairs. Still, there are critical differences related to the types of matters handled in each of these legal relationships.

This brief article will outline the differences between guardianship and conservatorship in Massachusetts.

What is Guardianship?

Guardianship is when the court appoints a guardian to look after someone’s residency and healthcare decisions because they can no longer take care of themselves.

The court may appoint a guardian for someone incapacitated due to a disability or illness. It’s also not uncommon to assign guardians to minors whose parents can no longer care for them due to illness or death. When a guardian is appointed to oversee a minor, it is usually up until the child’s 18th birthday, though this timeframe may vary.

Guardians can have varying levels of decision-making authority, depending on the terms of guardianship. For example, in a limited guardianship, the incapacitated person retains the right to determine where they reside. They also have the right to continue voting.

In sum, guardians take a holistic approach in managing the best interests of the person they’ve been charged to protect, including physical well-being and day-to-day living. A guardianship attorney can help guide you through this process.

What is Conservatorship?

Conservatorships made headlines in 2021 when pop star Britney Spears petitioned to end her conservatorship. In this situation, Britney’s father had ultimate control of her financial affairs.

A conservatorship involves the appointment of a conservator by the court when a person can no longer make sound financial decisions about their property and assets. The purpose of conservatorship is to protect the financial interests of someone unable to make financial decisions and manage their finances independently.

A variety of circumstances can arise that make a conservatorship necessary, including:

  • Coma
  • Cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s or dementia
  • Disability or illness
  • An adult with special needs
  • An adult who has gone missing or cannot be reached

A conservatorship entails everything relating to one’s finances. This can include paying bills, dealing with creditors, managing an investment portfolio, and controlling routine purchase decisions.

Several different types of conservatorships exist, depending on the circumstances. The most common is a financial conservatorship, which deals solely with the person’s finances. Other conservatorships, such as emergency, elderly, and joint, are also meant to manage the financial aspects of an estate. The specific terms and purposes of these conservatorships vary.

An emergency conservatorship, for example, is meant to be temporary, lasting for 90 days. On the other hand, a traditional conservatorship will continue until the person dies or gets revoked by a judge. The latter was the case with Britney Spears when a Los Angeles judge terminated the conservatorship that had ruled her life and finances for 13 years.

Conservators are compensated for the efforts they undertake to manage the incapacitated person’s estate. Because there is a potential for a conflict of interest, a conservatorship attorney can help protect the incapacitated person by establishing boundaries or helping the person avoid conservatorship altogether.

Comparing Guardianship and Conservatorship

Depending on the situation, someone might prefer power of attorney over either conservatorship or guardianship because it allows them to retain more independence and liberties.

Power of attorney can also be advantageous because it does not involve court supervision, but it does require advanced planning. A power of attorney is assigned before the person needs assistance, while a conservatorship or guardianship is a more reactive measure to a present situation.

However, court supervision isn’t necessarily undesirable. In many cases, involving the courts is essential in response to events that cause an individual to be unable to manage their daily and long-term decision-making.

Guardianship Conservatorship
Legal Rights Assigned to guardian Assigned to conservator
Issues Medical care, residency, life decisions Financial
Court Supervision Yes Yes

Because of the boundaries between guardians and conservators, an estate may have both, as indicated above. For example, a guardian may be responsible for making medical decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person, and the conservator will fund the medical treatment from the assets in the estate.

The bottom line is that the difference between guardianship and conservatorship pertains to the person’s role in the incapacitated individual’s life. A guardian manages medical and residential matters, while a conservator handles financial issues related to property and assets.  Despite the distinct roles, a guardian can serve as a conservator and vice versa.

The Law Offices of Kimberly Butler Rainen: Planning for Families, Planning for Life

Suppose your loved one is in a situation where conservatorship is necessary to protect their financial interests. In that case, it’s essential to work with an estate planning lawyer who is experienced in this field and can help you weigh all of your options.

Call The Law Offices of Kimberly Butler Rainen at (978) 409-1928 or fill out our contact us form to schedule a consultation. We will begin by discussing your situation in a brief call to get to know your needs. Then we will follow up with a strategy session to thoroughly explore your options to find an appropriate path to move forward.

Copyright© 2022. The Law Offices of Kimberly Butler Rainen. All rights reserved.

The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

The Law Offices of Kimberly Butler Rainen
23 Central St.,
Andover, MA 01810
(978) 409-1928

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