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What is the difference between a conservatorship and a guardianship?

Dear Clients and Friends,

The key difference between a conservatorship and guardianship ie that the former is for adults and the latter for persons under the age of 18.

The Guardianship and Conservatorship process in California courts procedurally are similar. They both start with a Petition asking the court to grant power over the person in question. They both have a court hearing, a court investigation and required notifications to relatives and interested parties before the Judge will grant the petition, make an order and then officially grant the Petitioner his or her requested powers.

Adults commonly need conservatorships if they have serious health issues such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, have special needs or are physically incapacitated.

Children need guardianships when people who are not their parents are taking care of them. The adults may need court orders to make decisions on the children’s behalf, enroll them in school, and other such tasks.

Guardianship of the estate of a child is not as common as the guardianship of a person, but typical in situations where the minor child has some asset and the court will need to allow someone else to manage it. Common instances of this would be if one parent dies and had the minor child listed as a beneficiary on life insurance. The life insurance company cannot distribute an asset to the minor child, so they require someone be awarded Guardianship of the estate to take control of funds. It seems unusual that these companies would require the surviving parent to have a court order but it is for the protection of the value of the asset until the minor child reaches age of majority and can take control of that asset. In cases like these, the Judge will often place all funds into a blocked account and require yearly financial updates and status reports of the account until the child is 18.

Conservatorship of the Estate is utilized when perhaps a parent is aging and suffering from dementia or other similar medical problems. They become unable to properly make decisions and maintain their finances. This type of conservatorship grants powers to conservators to be able to manage and maintain the assets of someone who cannot. With Probate cases that involve estates the court will always require formal court appraisals of the estate as well as yearly accountings and reviews. This is to ensure that the assets of the conservatee are managed and maintained properly.

Each guardianship or conservatorship case can be different and have special circumstances. Since these processes are serious to the court and they are tasked with the best interests of the person in question, the court does not grant these titles on a whim. They make sure that it is the best placement and that there are no red flags or potential hazards to the persons health, well being or finances. 

As a result, if one thinks they need to seek a guardianship or conservatorship or

If you find yourself appointed as a guardian or conservator it is crucial that you fully understand your role and obligations and we invite each of you to check with us to see if we can be of help in these and all other areas of Probate law.



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