Guardianship & Conservatorship

Guardianship & Conservatorship

There are important decisions to make in all lives, and fortunately, most people are able to make those necessary choices on their own for the greater portion of their lifetimes. However, children do not have the experience, wisdom, or legal authority to make important decisions for themselves. Sometimes adults experience cognitive decline due to age, accidents, or illnesses, making it difficult or impossible for them to continue making critical decisions for themselves. In both of those cases, Arizona courts may appoint a qualified substitute to make important decisions for the person. 

Both guardians and conservators serve as legal authorities for another person’s important decisions, but it’s important to understand the similarities and distinctions between the two. Reach out to an experienced Phoenix family lawyer at Stewart Law Group today for questions about Arizona’s guardianship and conservatorship laws.

Man protecting child.

What is Guardianship & Conservatorship?

Guardianships and conservatorships are similar in that they are both positions one individual takes to make key decisions for another individual—the subject—because the subject isn’t able to make those decisions due to age or ability.  A conservator primarily makes financial decisions for a subject to protect their assets, while a guardian has wider authority and may make more personal decisions for the subject as well as financial ones if the subject does not also have a conservator.

Both guardianships and conservatorships are granted by the court within the subject’s jurisdiction. The subject of a guardianship is typically called a “ward” while the subject of a conservatorship is a “protected person.”

To qualify as a guardian or conservator, the person must be both physically and mentally capable of making important decisions. Different states may have additional qualifications required to fill these positions. For instance, some states disqualify individuals with criminal records from filling these legal roles or prohibit those who’ve experienced a bankruptcy from becoming a conservator for another.

A person may serve as both guardian and conservator for a subject, or the subject may have both a conservator and a guardian filling separate roles.

Key Responsibilities of a Guardian in Arizona

Guardians play a crucial role for their wards, typically underaged minors, parents, or elderly relatives suffering cognitive decline. A guardian makes decisions for their ward’s medical care, living arrangements, education, religion, social activities, and other personal decisions related to the ward’s well-being. A child’s parents may name a guardian for their child in a will or estate plan to ensure that a trusted person has legal responsibility over the child in the event of their death. In other circumstances, an individual related to a child left without a guardian may petition the court to become the child’s guardian. Guardianship of a child ends when the child turns 18 or becomes emancipated by the court.

An adult child of an elderly person may petition the court to become their aging parent’s guardian if the elderly parent is no longer cognitively able to make their own medical decisions and decisions regarding their living arrangements, such as the decision to enter a nursing home or assisted living facility.

Key Responsibilities of a Conservator in Arizona

A conservator also makes important decisions for their subject, but their decision-making authority is limited to financial decisions, such as managing assets, investments, bank accounts, and properties for a child or incapacitated adult. They serve primarily as a fiduciaries with the responsibility of making the best possible financial decisions to protect the subject’s assets. A conservator may be required to complete a training program given by the court to those serving as fiduciaries.

A conservator must maintain meticulous records of all financial transactions they make on the protected person’s behalf and report them periodically to the court. The conservatorship may be short-term or long-term depending on the needs of the subject. A long-term conservatorship ends at the death of the protected person unless the conservator petitions the court to end their conservatorship.

Becoming a Guardian or Conservator in Arizona

To become a guardian or conservator in Arizona requires petitioning the court in the county of the subject’s residence. To submit a petition for the guardianship or conservatorship of an adult requires a physician’s report as well as the following information:

  • The reason for the request
  • Personal identifying information about the petitioner
  • Information about the subject (the proposed ward or protected person)
  • The type of guardianship and/or conservatorship proposed by the petitioner (limited or long-term)
  • For a conservatorship, the petition forms must include a list of the protected person’s assets

The medical report submitted for a petition for guardianship or conservatorship of an adult must include the adult’s physical or mental diagnosis, an assessment of the subject’s functional impairment, an overview of the daily tasks the subject can perform independently, and the subject’s prognosis for improvement.

The court appoints an attorney to represent the subject by playing an objective role in determining if guardianship or conservatorship is necessary and if the petitioner is qualified to serve in the best interests of the subject.

If multiple individuals request guardianship or conservatorship over the same adult, the court chooses the individual based on a hierarchy of closeness to the subject, for instance, the subject’s spouse, adult child, parent, or person named by the subject in their estate plan would take priority for these positions over a more distant relative.

How an Attorney Can Help With Guardianship and Conservatorship in Arizona

Choosing or becoming a conservator or guardian can come with legal challenges. Sometimes disputes arise among family members over an adult or child’s guardianship or conservatorship. Disputes and questions may also develop over the handling of a ward or protected person’s assets, domicile, or medical decisions. The family lawyers at Stewart Law Group have an in-depth knowledge of Arizona’s laws and guidelines for guardianship and conservatorship. We are ready to navigate all aspects of your conservatorship and guardianship cases by bringing matters before the court or facilitating mediation and alternative dispute resolution. In some cases, questions arise about whether or not such protection is necessary for a subject, such as when there is already a durable power of attorney functioning capably in all capacities.