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Guardians and Conservatorships

Some people may need legal protection even after they have become adults.  They may have been injured in an accident, or continue to suffer from an incapacitating physical illness or psychological disorder, or they may have some other condition that keeps them from providing for their own care. In such situations, they may need a guardianship or conservatorship.

A guardianship is a legal arrangement that puts a person, also known as a ward, under the care, supervision and control of a guardian.

A guardian or conservator is usually a family member, friend, or other responsible person appointed by the probate court.  A ward can either be a minor child or an adult who can no longer make safe and sound decisions about his or her own person or property.  A guardian cares for the person, and a conservator manages the ward's property and finances.

Guardianship or Conservatorship of Adults

A guardianship or a conservatorship should only be considered in appropriate cases, as it may significantly impinge upon rights of the individual.

Appointment of a guardian or conservator can significantly limit the rights and privileges of the ward in some of the following ways:

  • Choosing where he lives
  • Making informed consent to medical treatment
  • Making his end-of-life decisions
  • Making property transactions
  • Obtaining a driver's license
  • Owning, possessing, or carrying a firearm or other weapon
  • Making contracts or filing law suits
  • Getting married
  • Being able to vote

To protect the ward's rights to due process, he or she is entitled to be notified of and to attend all legal proceedings related to the guardianship or conservatorship.  The ward may also have an attorney represent him or her, to present evidence, and confront and cross-examine all witnesses in the case.

Guardianship of Minors

Guardianships may also be used to protect the legal rights of a minor.  If the child's parents are both deceased, a guardian will be appointed to raise the child to adulthood. If a living parent is no longer able to act on behalf of or to care for his or her child, a guardian, usually a relative, may be appointed.  Unlike an adoption, where parental rights and obligations are terminated, under a guardianship, those parents may still be responsible for supporting the child financially and they do not necessarily give up their parental rights.

A legal guardianship may be considered for a minor child if his or her parent cannot provide shelter, does not have a steady income, suffers from an illness, or is incarcerated.  In most cases, parental approval or consent must be sought before any legal proceedings begin.