When an adult does not have or permanently loses the ability to care for themselves, there are two legal provisions that can give others the right to care for them. These are the roles of guardian and conservator. Let’s explore the difference between guardian and conservator responsibilities.


Let’s start with guardianship. When someone becomes a guardian, they are responsible to physically care for someone else. By law, they are accountable to act in the best interest of that person. Guardianship is only granted in specific cases. Most of the time, a judge will grant guardianship only when someone has a permanent disability.
A guardian is different from a medical agent. A medical agent is someone a person appoints for themselves to step in and act on their behalf during a medical crisis or temporary loss of capacity. No one can appoint a guardian for themselves, and it is usually not a short-term role. Only a judge has the authority to appoint a guardian.
There is also a difference between an adult guardian and a minor’s guardian. A minor’s guardian is a role that is only applicable until a child reaches the age of 18. At that point, the law considers them an adult and their guardian no longer has the right to act for them.

[Related: 3 Tips to Choosing a Guardian for Your Minor Child]


While a guardian handles a person’s physical care and daily nurturing, a conservator handles their finances. They may have minimal contact with the person themselves, but they are legally bound to make the best possible financial decisions for that person.
A conservator is different from a power of attorney for the same reasons a guardian is different than a medical agent. Both powers of attorney and medical agents are appointed to make temporary financial and medical decisions.

The Difference Between a Guardian and a Conservator

The roles are often confused, because they are both necessary when someone loses capacity, and they are often talked about in tandem. But knowing the difference between a guardian and a conservator is crucial if you are being considered for one of the roles, or if you have a special needs or disabled loved one who needs to others to be their guardian and conservator.

[Related: If you have more questions about guardians and conservators, you may find these videos by The Probate Nation helpful.]


Do you have more questions about guardians and conservators? Shoot me an email at Josh@relational.law – I’m happy to chat!


Joshua E. Hummer, Esq. is a licensed attorney who has been admitted in both Virginia and West Virginia. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia and has been practicing for over 15 years. While experienced in many parts of the law, Josh specializes in estate planning, estate administration, and elder law.