When your loved one starts having trouble caring for themselves or making decisions, it may be time to become their guardian or conservator. While these legal roles are similar in nature, it’s important to understand the differences in the responsibilities.
What is a Guardian?
Under Georgia law, a guardian is a court-appointed individual who looks after another person’s wellbeing after they have become incapacitated and are otherwise unable to take care of themselves. A guardian is responsible for making sure the person (their “ward”) receives necessary medical attention, has a safe place to live, appropriate clothes, and plenty to eat. They’re in charge of their ward’s day-to-day needs. A guardian can take care of either an adult or a child; with a child, the guardian may serve as a parental figure and primary caregiver. Guardians have the legal authority to:
- Take custody of the minor or ward
- Enable the adoption of a minor
- Enrolling minors in school
- Consent to the ward’s marriage or their involvement in court cases
- Participate in legal or administrative proceedings on the ward’s behalf
A guardian should only help with decisions that the ward cannot make for themselves. The goal is to encourage the ward’s independence and self-reliance as much as possible, while ensuring that they’re safe and protected.
What is a Conservator?
While a guardian is responsible for a ward’s wellbeing, a conservator is responsible for handling their financial matters. (In Georgia, conservators were once referred to as guardians of property). A court will appoint a conservator and grant them authority to handle money matters for their ward. This can include creating a budget, paying bills, managing financial investments, filing taxes, and other financial matters. Conservators cannot make personal, medical, or legal decisions for their wards. Other responsibilities may include:
- Managing bank accounts
- Making disbursements of annual income
- Addressing any debts or claims
- Selling stocks and bonds
- Managing real estate investments and rental property
- Applying for government assistance
Under Georgia law, minors may need a conservator to handle certain financial affairs. For example, if a child under the age of 18 inherits or is awarded more than $15,000 in a lawsuit, the minor may need a conservator for that property. That’s because, in Georgia, minors are not allowed to own property. If a child inherits more than $15,000, but those assets are held in a trust, then a conservator is not required.
How are Guardians and Conservators Similar?
Sometimes, the court will appoint an individual to serve as both guardian and conservator. Their responsibilities are to manage a loved one’s resources, make sure they’re being looked after, and protect them from exploitation. They’re working in the ward’s best interests. Guardians and conservators are subject to court oversight in fulfilling those duties.
To become a guardian or conservator, a person must: petition the court, have a hearing before the judge, be legally appointed by the court, and provide regular status updates on their ward’s wellbeing and/or finances. Family members usually take on these roles, but any competent adult can serve. The duration for guardianship and conservatorship can be temporary or permanent, and the scope can be limited or total.
How are Guardians and Conservators Different?
The primary difference between a guardian and a conservator is the kinds of decisions they help supervise. A guardian’s authority includes personal, medical, and legal decisions for their ward. A conservator has decision-making power over all financial, investment, and real estate matters.
Have Additional Questions? Contact Brian M. Douglas & Associates’ Estate Planning Team
Having a carefully drafted estate plan can ensure that you’ll have agents in place to take care of your personal and financial needs in case of illness or incapacity. If you have any questions about guardians or conservators, please reach out to our team of experienced estate planning attorneys. We’re always happy to help. You can reach us at (770) 933-9009 or on our online contact page.