As we and our parents grow older, we start to hear new words in greater frequency. Usually, these words are in the realm of health and medicine, but occasionally they involve legal matters.
“Conservatorship” and “guardianship” are often used interchangeably, but in a strict legal sense they have different meanings. And though they are often interconnected, they apply to difference situations. Just because one applies doesn’t mean both are necessary.
In Florida, both conservatorship and guardianship require court approval, with evidence that the person you’re trying to help can no longer perform these duties themselves.
Conservatorship means that you are petitioning to take over someone’s financial affairs. This includes major transactions (selling property, consolidating assets), paying bills, filing and paying their taxes and generally monitoring your ward’s financial activity as if it were your own.
Guardianship, the more serious of the two, is when a loved one can no longer care for themselves. Under this arrangement you would provide or arrange daily care, making medical decisions, determining if or when they should be moved to a care facility and generally ensuring their safety.
If you are petitioning for guardianship, you will mostly like be petitioning for conservatorship at the same time, if you haven’t already.
The process of acquiring conservatorship and guardianship
In an ideal world, your parent, or “ward,” will have already declared your agency in a durable power of attorney or healthcare advance directive. If this hasn’t happened, you will have to go through the probate courts. This can become complicated, especially if other family members disagree that your parent is in need of this care.
If your proposed ward objects to the guardianship, you will need to present conclusive evidence that guardianship is necessary, as it is viewed as an infringement of a person’s civil liberties. You will also need to demonstrate that you are capable of performing the guardianship.
If you are seeking a conservatorship or guardianship, contested or not, consider consulting an attorney to make the process as smooth as possible.