family and gavel

What Is the Difference Between Guardianship and Conservatorship?

Guardianship and conservatorships can provide protection and security for compromised individuals. However, legally, guardianships and conservatorships are vastly different. So, what is the difference between a guardianship and a conservatorship? Keep reading to find out.

Why Are Guardianships and Conservatorships Necessary?

Both conservatorships and guardianships are important legal relationships that exist to protect a compromised individual from the system, financial ruin, and neglect.

In many cases, the conservatee or ward has extenuating circumstances that prevent them from providing for themselves or making critical decisions regarding finances or healthcare. A guardian or conservator can assist the ward with daily activities and decision making. In doing so, they protect the ward from outside influences that could negatively impact quality of life.

While guardians and conservators provide essential services to the ward or conservatee, they hold a tremendous amount of power of them as well. This is why it is important to choose a conservator/guardian that can handle the responsibility and does not have ulterior motives.


A guardianship is a legal relationship between a court-appointed guardian and a ward. A ward may be a minor or an incapacitated adult. In general, the court will evaluate the circumstances of the ward and select a guardian based on their relationship with the ward and their trustworthiness.

To become a guardian, a person must:

  • File necessary paperwork with the court clerk
  • Ask a judge to appoint them the guardian
  • Attend a hearing and prove to the court why they should be appointed

Guardianships primarily involve minor children and in many cases the parents of the child select a relative or close family friend to become the guardian in the event of their premature death. Guardianship can be designated in a will or as a separate designation.

Regardless of whether the guardian is selected by the parents or the court, they must be responsible individuals with no criminal record and the capacity to provide a safe environment for the child.


A conservatorship is the appointment of a conservator by the court over a conservatee. Conservators are chosen to manage the conservatee’s personal affairs including medical and financial management. In the same way that the court carefully evaluates guardianship candidates, it also takes the steps necessary to choose an appropriate conservator.

To become a conservator:

  • A person must submit paperwork with the court
  • Inform all interested parties of their application
  • Attend a legal hearing

Conservators are most often in charge of incapacitated adults. An adult may be considered incapacitated if they have sustained mental impairment, critical physical health issues that prevent them from caring for themselves, or a temporary but severe impairment that limits their ability to manage their affairs.

Most notably, singer Britney Spears was put into a conservatorship by her father after a public mental breakdown. It is important to note that the Spears case points toward an issue with conservatorships - abuse. Because conservators are put in charge of the conservatee’s financial and medical information, they can use these resources to cause harm. Guardians also have access, but not at the same level.

Guardianship with Nichols Dixon

Nichols Dixon understands the importance of selecting a trustworthy guardian and protecting your loved one. Our firm can assist you with choosing a guardianship or becoming a guardian, document filing, and more.

When you need legal counsel regarding guardianship, contact Nichols Dixon.