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Conservators and guardians: What's the difference?

When people make out their wills, they often don't think about the possibility that an injury or illness will leave them incapacitated and unable to make their own financial or medical decisions.

This is where conservators and guardians come in. The Colorado probate court can use them to make directives for an incapacitated person who is no longer able to direct their own affairs.

A guardian is responsible for the decisions regarding the incapacitated person's physical well-being and personal care. They will likely decide where the incapacitated person will live and what sort of medical care they will receive. That means periodically making sure that their needs are being met.

A conservator, on the other hand, is wholly in charge of the incapacitated person's financial affairs. They will likely decide what happens to any assets the incapacitated person holds, including bank accounts and real property. In many cases, that means liquidating the assets by selling them and pouring the money into a trust for the incapacitated person's future care.

Usually, if someone has a durable power of attorney for finances and a durable power of attorney for medical care, the court never has to step in and name a conservator or guardian. Sometimes people hesitate too long, however, to make those kinds of decisions because they misunderstand the way that powers of attorney work. They fear a loss of control. This can lead them to make decisions that actually cost them more of their personal autonomy in the long run.

Now that people are living longer, planning for the possibility of incapacity is more important than ever. It's just as important -- maybe more so -- than planning what should happen after your death. For help making good plans for your future -- including all possibilities -- talk with an experienced attorney.

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