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Guardianship or conservatorship: Does your loved one need both?

As many Florida residents age, their mental sharpness begins to decline. You may have noticed some minor concerns with a parent’s or other older loved one’s mental abilities, or your loved one may have already received a diagnosis of a cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease. In either case, you may have concerns about what will happen with your loved one’s affairs should he or she become unable to handle them.

In a best-case scenario, your parent would have created an estate plan that included power of attorney agent appointments so that you or another trusted individual could smoothly take over his or her medical or financial decisions. If this is not the case, you may need to petition the court for guardianship and/or conservatorship.

And/or?

Though some individuals and even states use the terms “guardianship” and “conservatorship” interchangeably, they are not the same role in Florida. In a broad sense, guardianship involves managing a person’s care, including health care and daily care, and conservatorship involves handling a person’s financial affairs. If your loved one still has the majority of his or her faculties and can handle daily tasks and personal care, it may only be necessary to petition for conservatorship. However, both roles may be necessary in some cases.

A guardian’s responsibilities can include:

  • Providing personal daily care
  • Ensuring safe living arrangements
  • Determining whether staying in the home or moving to a care facility may be best
  • Making medical care decisions in some cases

When it comes to conservatorship, responsibilities include:

  • Handling financial affairs
  • Determining whether to make significant financial transactions, such as buying or selling real estate
  • Paying bills
  • Filing and paying taxes
  • Keeping track of financial moves made on behalf of the ward

It is also important to note that the court may require that a conservator seek specific court approval before carrying out a particular transaction. For example, Florida state law requires that the conservator obtain court approval before selling personal property or real estate owned by the ward.

Is this right for your loved one?

If you believe that your loved one has reached a point where he or she can no longer properly care for him- or herself or handle financial matters, gaining more information on guardianships and conservatorships may be worthwhile. It is also important to note that the court takes such appointments seriously and will not allow just anyone to take on these essential roles. As a result, you may need to prepare evidence as to why taking control of your loved one’s affairs would be in his or her best interests.

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