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The difference between conservatorship and guardianship in California

Every individual hopes to live an independent life in which they are able manage their own affairs. However, mental or physical incapacity may leave a person unable to make informed decisions for themselves.

In such cases, conservatorship and guardianship are legal tools that can be used to help protect an adult or child’s wellbeing. Both involve court proceedings in which a judge gives an appointed conservator or guardian the responsibility for making various decisions on an incapacitated person’s behalf. Such decisions may be of a legal, medical, financial or personal nature.

In California, guardianship refers only to the court appointment of an individual with the legal authority to represent and manage the affairs of a minor child. Conservatorships are for protecting incapacitated adults and typically involve matters related to health care and estate. Many states use the term “guardianship” instead of “conservatorship” when referring to the same duties for adults. In these states “conservator” refers to someone appointed to only handle finances.

California courts typically establish guardianships if both parents are unable to provide a child with a safe and secure home due to death, mental disability or other circumstances. Such arrangements allow a guardian to make decisions for the child until they are of legal age to care for themselves.

The need for conservatorship may arise if an adult individual experiences an injury, accident or other health event that causes them to become incapacitated. They may also require assistance in various areas of life after becoming mentally incapacitated due to disability or old age.

The process of issuing a conservatorship or guardianship is often difficult, costly and time-consuming. Conservatorship should be viewed as a last resort when a Durable Power of Attorney or Advance Health Care Directive has not been signed. Otherwise, it can impose significant limitations on a person’s ability to maintain their independence and freedom.

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