When it comes to stewardship over people or property, there is a lot to consider both personally and legally. At times when the legality of such things is challenged, it can present difficulty to multiple parties. It is always wise to walk such roads with a trusted divorce and family lawyer or experienced estate planning attorney to avoid further complications. However, understanding the basics ourselves can prove very beneficial.
There are two common terms that refer to stewardships: guardianship and conservatorship. But what exactly do these terms mean, and is there a difference between the two?
When we speak of guardianship, it almost always refers to the stewardship an adult has over a child. A legal guardian is deeply involved in the day to day of an individual and can make many decisions on their behalf. Of course, the guardian has the responsibility of feeding, clothing, education, and otherwise caring for the protected party.
In many states, including Arizona, there are two primary types of guardianship, one of them being full legal guardianship. This is most easily illustrated by the relationship between parent and child. Full legal guardianship persists either until adulthood or until the protected party is found legally fit to care for themself or granted emancipation. In the event of the guardian’s death, guardianship will transfer to the designated party on the deceased’s will or trust. If no party is mentioned, the court decides who cares for the protected party.
The second type of guardianship is known as temporary guardianship. If a parent or guardian will be absent for a period of time, it is common, and often prudent for them to designate a temporary guardian to care for the protected party in their absence. Temporary guardianship generally has a set timeframe during which the temporary guardian has responsibility. In most cases, applications must be submitted to the court to be legitimized, but in some jurisdictions, the responsibility can be delegated more informally using a letter of guardianship.
In contrast to guardianship conservatorship generally refers to the stewardship of someone else’s assets or the responsibility to an adult party who is incapacitated or otherwise mentally unfit to take full care of themself.
A conservator, or responsible party, can have conservatorship over the conservatee themself, their estate, or both. If responsible for the estate, a conservator has the duty to protect, preserve, and manage the estate of the conservatee. If granted conservatorship over the individual, the conservator essentially has the responsibilities of a guardian and is tasked with providing for the personal needs of the protected party.
In some states, when the protected party is an adult, the legal stewardship is referred to as limited conservatorship and can pertain either to the person themself or the estate. It is not unusual to have different individuals appointed to each. This is one of the primary differences between guardianship and conservatorship.
To summarize, guardianship and conservatorship are very similar in that they both refer to responsibility for and stewardship of a person or their property. The primary differences lie in age and duty. Most often, guardianship refers to the stewardship an adult has over a child and often includes responsibility for the assets the child acquires. Conservatorship most often refers to the stewardship one has over an adult party who is incapacitated or unfit to care for themself. Conservatorships can be delegated as responsibility for the individual, their property, or both. For this reason, an individual can be appointed more than one conservator.
Both guardianships and stewardships are important terms to know and important for proper estate planning. When organizing a will or trust at any age, it is necessary to consider your stewardships and determine into whose hands they should fall in the event of death. If a proper estate plan is not in place and such things are not detailed, those decisions will be made by the court, an uninvolved party. If you have any questions with regards to guardianship, conservatorship, or estate planning for a more secure future, contact Morris Hall. We would be happy to assist you.