Guardianships and Conservatorships


All contents of this resource were created for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, therapist, or other qualified health providers with any questions or concerns you may have.

It seems like just yesterday that my son was toddling around on unsteady legs and poof, now he’s almost a legal adult. Yikes! So besides a party and some gifts, what else do we need to prepare for? A lot, it turns out.

So much changes when adulthood comes – insurance coverage, assistance eligibility, finances, educational options, employment, housing and legal obligations all require a new focus.

Your child’s 18th birthday is a big day, not just for your family, but legally. Turning 18 means they are now a legal adult and no longer “yours,” unless you file for guardianship. If your child is unable to care for themselves without you, you will need to file for guardianship.

Guardianship appoints an adult to make decisions for someone not capable of making decisions himself. A general guardianship or conservatorship gives someone power to make decisions about medical care, finances, living situations and more. Some states allow for a “limited” guardian or conservator of a person with developmental disabilities.

Guardianships are supervised by the court. It is recommended to start this process 12-18 months before the child’s 18th birthday.

Filing for guardianship of your child is different in every state. To find out more, do a google search for “guardianship and the name of your state.”

Types of Guardianship

  • Person – makes decisions about person, programs, medical care, residence, release of confidential information.
  • Estate – manages and makes decisions about financial matters, benefits, real estate and other property often referred to as conservator.
  • Plenary – means total and can be attached to guardianship of person or estate or both. In most states there are exclusions to plenary guardianship, which may be residential placement, certain medical procedures, and sale or transfer of property. The guidelines again are in the state laws regulating guardianship.
  • Limited – means that the guardian has only the authority specifically given by court order. The ward keeps all other decision-making rights not specifically outlined by the court order. In most states the appointment of a limited guardian does not equal a finding of legal incompetence.
  • Successor – the court appoints another guardian when the original guardian dies, resigns, or is removed. Usually the successor has the same powers as the original guardian.

Being appointed a guardian does not necessarily authorize the guardian to make medical decisions for the ward. That is a separate appointment – Health Care Surrogate.

TIP! If you do not have guardianship, HIPAA laws will prevent you from getting information on your child’s care and treatment.

From the American Bar Association: Adult Guardianship Handbooks by State

Please note: The information in this article is not intended to constitute legal advice applicable to specific factual situations.


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