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Understanding the Difference Between Conservatorships and Guardianships

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Tennessee law strives to provide for vulnerable individuals through conservatorships and guardianships. In a conservatorship or guardianship agreement, the court takes away some of the individual’s rights and awards them to a capable conservator or guardian. Depending on the individual’s age and needs, the court may award control of finances, healthcare decisions, living arrangements, and daily care decisions. Although these care arrangements are similar, there are significant differences between guardianships and conservatorships.

Age of the Individual

The primary difference between a guardianship and conservatorship is the age of the individual protected. Guardianships are used for individuals under the age of 18. Conservatorships serve adults who the courts have determined to need assistance in life choices or health or finances.

Who Can File?

The process for initiating the process is the same for guardianships and conservatorships. Anyone who knows the circumstances of the individual can file a petition asking the court to assign a guardian or conservator. Family members are preferred. Paperwork must be filed in the county where the individual in need of care lives. 

Assessment

Once the process has started, the court goes through slightly different assessment processes for guardianships and conservatorships. If someone has requested a conservatorship, the ward must be medically evaluated by a physician or mental care practitioner, depending on the circumstances leading to the request for a conservator. In both cases, the court looks at the facts presented in the petition and may appoint a temporary guardian ad litem to act in the individual’s best interests.

Assigning a Guardian or Conservator

In both cases, a hearing will take place to determine whether or not the person in question needs a guardian or conservator. In a conservatorship case, the court determines whether or not the individual is considered disabled and if a conservatorship will protect the person’s health and assets.

If the court decides that a guardianship or conservatorship is necessary, they will appoint a responsible person or agency to act in that role. In a conservatorship case, preference is given to a person named by the individual, the individual’s spouse, or the person’s child. In a guardianship, preference is often given to one or both parents, someone designated by the parents, or adult siblings of the child.

Termination of the Guardianship or Conservatorship

In many cases, conservatorships last for the duration of the ward’s life. If the ward has a temporary disability, the conservatorship may be terminated once a medical exam indicates that the individual is capable of making their own decisions. A guardianship terminates when the child turns 18 years old. If the child is disabled, the guardian may request to become a conservator.

If someone you love needs a conservatorship, working with a lawyer can help you preserve the individual’s rights and get a conservator who can act in the ward’s best interests. Reach out to our team today to schedule a time to discuss your legal needs.

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