Guardianship vs. Conservatorship: What’s the Difference?

To guard and to conserve seem to be two sides of the same coin. From a semantic perspective, this is possibly an exercise in hair splitting. From a legal perspective, there is definitely a difference. Here’s how guardianship and conservatorship differ from each other.


In essence, guardianship gives another person control over your personal affairs should you become incapacitated. Guardianships can allow the guardian to make decisions over the health and well-being of the individual, and sometimes with the maintenance of their assets. Guardianship is usually invoked in situations where a person is truly unable to manage their own personal affairs, like being so incapacitated so as to be unable to manage their health care.

One of the most common forms of guardianship is the relationship of a parent over a child. The parent is given absolute control over the health care decisions of the child as well as financial matters regarding the child. The formal process of guardianship is more often invoked over the elderly or adults who are impaired, such as individuals with dementia or other brain disorders who are no longer able to manage their affairs. Unlike in the guardian relationship between a parent and child, a court must be involved in appointing a guardian for an incapacitated adult and may grant guardianship over certain areas of the person’s life or complete guardianship over all aspects.


Conservators, on the other hand, are given control over the financial and estate decisions of another person, but this is where their decision-making authority ends. Conservatorships are established when a court finds that there is clear and convincing evidence that without a conservator, the property and assets in that person’s estate will be wasted or dissipated. Thus, it is only used to appoint an individual or corporate entity (such as a bank) to manage the finances of the protected person.

So, when a conservatorship is established, it is over the estate and finances, not over the person. Their sole duty is to preserve and manage the estate while ensuring that the protected person has the funds that they need to live and go to school, if applicable, from their estate. If applicable, the conservator must seek on behalf of the protected person all of the local, state, and federal services that they may be entitled to.

Unlike guardianships, there is no presumption or assumption that the protected person is incapacitated or unable to make decisions regarding their health, wellbeing, or other basic functions of adulthood (like voting or managing their finances). A conservatorship is designed to give protection only to the financial domain of the protected person where it has been determined they are in need of protection and management.

While guardianships and conservatorships have the same general intent of protecting another who is no longer capable of managing their affairs, they are very different forms of protection and serve different purposes. If you have questions about the differences between guardianships and conservatorships, or would like to look into establishing either, contact the office of Jane J. Larson Associates. Our attorneys are ready and able to assist you in all of your needs in either area.

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Jane J. Larson Associates

Jane J. Larson Associates provides personalized legal services for clients in Roseville, Ramsey, Hennepin, Washington, and Anoka. We’ve been providing essential legal services since 1988 and are ready to put our decades of experience to work on your case. We take stress out of the legal process, and are ready to help you today.

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