Guardianship Law: The Difference Between a Conservator & Adult Guardianship

When an adult suffers from a mental or physical impairment, he may need someone called a conservator to handle his affairs. How the adult becomes a conservatee – which means a family member or friend takes over his affairs – is through a process called adult guardianship. The terms “adult guardianship” and “conservator” coexist when referring to an adult needing help with his affairs. However, the terms have distinctly different meanings.

Adult Guardianship

Adult guardianship is a legal process to ensure that an adult’s basic needs are met. Adult guardianship differs from family law. Family law has established statutes that dictate what happens to children when parents can’t take care of them. However, adult guardianship doesn’t have specific statutes which dictate who oversees conservatorship of adults. Adult guardianship laws allow a state to intervene on a conservatee’s life at the request of a petitioner such as a parent or aunt. When a judge or jury decides in the petitioner’s favor, the individual no longer has any rights to make decisions. For example, the conservatee may not sell property or buy clothes.

Burden of Proof

During adult guardianship court proceedings, the burden of proof regarding whether the state should interfere in an adult’s life is on the petitioner. Adult guardianship law presumes that every adult is competent and able to make decisions without help until proven otherwise, according to The People’s Law. If the petitioner doesn’t prove that the state should intervene, then the potential conservatee remains in control of the decision-making process.


A conservator is not a legal procedure like adult guardianship. Instead a conservator, also called an adult guardian, is an individual appointed by a judge. A conservator’s responsibilities encompass overseeing the conservatee’s estate, everyday activities or both. For example, a person only supervising financial affairs is called a conservator of the estate. The conservator of the estate pays the conservatee’s bills, such as rent. However, the conservator is responsible for making decisions like where the person lives or type of medical care provided to the person. Regardless of the conservator’s duties, the court requires a regular accounting about the decisions that are made. Depending on where a person lives, a conservator is also called a curator or committee, according to Nolo Press.

Things to Remember

The only relationship between adult guardianship and conservator occurs during the legal process. For instance, in the adult guardianship hearing a judge appoints a conservator. The court informs the conservatee and anyone listed as a potential conservator over the estate or personal affairs about the hearing. During a hearing, open to the public, a judge makes the decision on whether or not to grant the adult guardianship and who serves as the conservator. A judge can also remove a conservator if the individual becomes better or if there are any improprieties such as mishandling finances or stealing money.


“Conservator”, Nolo Press

“Guardianship”, The People’s Law of Maryland

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