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What is the difference between a conservator and a guardian?

Gregory A. Lang

Minnesota residents may be interested in some information about the differences between guardians and conservators. While they have some things in common, their purposes are quite different. Both guardians and conservators are appointed as a result of court proceedings to assist someone who is not able to help themselves. This usually happens when the person in question is incapacitated or otherwise unable to perform certain duties or make important decisions. Once evidence of this incapacity is established, the court will make the determination that a guardian or conservator is necessary. The person will then not have the right to make these decisions on their own behalf until their capacity to do so is proven.

The major difference between the two lies in the duties that each is required to perform on behalf of another. A guardian is someone who is tasked with assisting in personal care, such as with providing a person food, shelter and clothing. Additionally, the guardian may be required to make medical decisions on the incapacitated person's behalf. On the other hand, a conservator is someone who is in charge of an incapacitated person's financial affairs. Their duties range from estate planning, paying bills and controlling investments using the ward's assets.

The powers of both guardians and conservators have limits, however. Courts only give them the authority as necessary to provide the required services. Guardians or conservators are not entitled to be excessively restrictive with a person's rights.

Understanding the duties and responsibilities that come with conservatorships or guardianships can be difficult without the assistance of an attorney. An estate planning attorney can discuss with a client who is to be appointed as a conservator the limitations and requirements attached to the management of the financial affairs of an incapacitated person.

Source: The Office of the Attorney General, "Conservatorship/Guardianship", October 30, 2014

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