When a loved one becomes incapacitated or is unable to make responsible decisions for themselves, families often seek legal solutions to protect their assets and well-being. Two common options are conservatorship and guardianship, both court-appointed roles designed to safeguard an individual’s interests.

In Arizona, these two distinct legal arrangements serve different purposes, each with its own set of responsibilities and implications. 

Understanding the distinctions between conservatorship and guardianship is crucial for families navigating these complex situations in the Grand Canyon State. Let’s delve into greater detail on these complex arrangements.

Who Needs a Guardian or Conservator?

Suppose a close relative or loved one is experiencing a decline in cognitive function due to age, illness, or injury. In that case, they may need help managing finances, making sound medical decisions, or ensuring their personal safety. In such cases, a guardianship or conservatorship might be in their best interest.

A court-appointed guardian or conservator may be appropriate for senior citizens with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, adults with severe intellectual or developmental disabilities, individuals in a coma or vegetative state, or minors under 18 years of age.

Guardians typically oversee personal and medical affairs whereas a conservator is generally limited to financial matters.

Facts About Guardianship

A guardian is a qualified and trustworthy individual or entity responsible for making personal decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person (often referred to as the ward). The most common duties of a guardian include:

  • Healthcare: Choosing medical treatments, consenting to procedures, and ensuring proper medical care.
  • Residence: Determining where the ward lives, whether it’s an independent residence, assisted living facility, or a nursing home.
  • Daily needs: Making choices regarding clothing, food, and personal care routines.

Arizona law recognizes different types of guardianships, allowing the court to tailor the level of authority to the ward’s specific needs. These include:

  • General guardianship: Responsible for all facets of the protected person’s health, safety, and comfort.
  • Limited guardianship: Grants authority over specific areas, like medical decisions only.

The alleged incapacitated person has the same rights of due process as any other individual. The court will assign an attorney if they do not have one of their own, as well as an “investigator,” who will interview the involved parties, and a doctor, psychologist, or registered nurse who will perform a medical exam. 

The Role of a Conservator

A conservator focuses solely on the incapacitated person’s financial well-being and performs a crucial fiduciary duty. 

Supervised by the court, this trusted party or entity is tasked with managing the ward’s assets, which include bank accounts, real estate, stocks, and other valuables. They also collect income, such as Social Security benefits, wages, or investment returns, pay the ward’s bills, and manage outstanding debts.

If the ward’s estate is valued at more than $10,000, the court-appointed conservator may need to purchase a bond, with the bond amount equal to the value of the property under the conservator’s control plus the yearly estimated income of the estate.

Similar to guardianships, the state recognizes different levels of conservatorship, from managing one specific account to having full control over the ward’s financial dealings. 

Making the Right Choice

According to the Maricopa County website, Arizona state law “requires the least restrictive measures be considered before appointment of a Guardian and/or Conservator.” 

Families of those struggling with injury, serious disability, advancing age, or mental illness should consult with an attorney experienced in guardianship matters to explore other alternatives that could better protect the vulnerable person’s autonomy.

There are several less restrictive options that might be better suited for your loved one, depending on their unique needs. These include:

At the Law Offices of J. Jeltes, our compassionate and knowledgeable advocates have extensive experience navigating conservatorship, guardianship, estate planning, and other delicate legal matters. 

We understand the sensitivity of these situations and are dedicated to providing personalized guidance to help you make the most informed choices and ensure the well-being of your loved ones. Reach out today to schedule a confidential consultation with our legal experts.