Legal Rights to Decision Making

There are several ways in which someone can obtain the right to make decisions on behalf of someone else: power of attorney, guardianship, and conservatorship. These options are usually considered when families are worried about the care and decision-making of someone they love. Power of attorney is the least rigid option, while Guardianship and Conservatorship allow more control over someone’s affairs. Read on for more guidance.

Power of Attorney vs. Guardianship vs. Conservatorship

In terms of sheer power, a power of attorney generally has the least amount of control over the life of the principal. A conservatorship has more control than a power of attorney, but only in limited areas. A guardianship is the strongest form of control over another person. Guardians have complete control over every aspect of their ward’s life, and thus guardianships are not given easily nor treated lightly. 

If the court chooses to grant guardianship, often the ward will be appointed an attorney to ensure that the guardian carries out their fiduciary responsibility. This is another difference from power of attorney. With power of attorney, there is no overarching body who attempts to assure the attorney-in-fact is being responsible, aside from some states which have laws protecting vulnerable groups of people. Given what can be at stake with a guardianship, the attorney is present to be sure the ward needs a guardian. In addition, the guardian has to make periodic reports to the court. Both measures help to ensure that a guardian is needed and once appointed, the guardian is carrying out their responsibilities ethically.

The court also decides who the guardian should be. It is not necessarily the person who petitioned the court initially, but often is. The court then decides how much authority that person will have, and instructs them to make their periodic reports to the court about the care of the ward and their financial situation.