What’s the Difference Between a Power of Attorney and Conservatorship?

As you consider your estate plan, it’s important you work with an experienced California estate planning attorney. A holistic approach to estate planning includes provisions for what will happen after you die, as well as for the management of your affairs if you become mentally or physically incapacitated. 

Talk to your estate planning attorney about how to prepare in the event of incapacitation. A good place to start is by asking, “What is the Difference Between a Power of Attorney and Conservatorship?”

What is a Power of Attorney (POA)?

A power of attorney is a document granting another person authority over decision making in your place. Most commonly needed as you age, a POA allows a designated person, your agent, to make decisions for you as your ability to understand and make decisions for yourself declines.  A power of attorney is also necessary in the event you become physically or mentally incapacitated due to an accident or health-related condition. 

Along with a POA, you should generally execute an advance health care directive, which will allow the same agent, or a different agent, to make healthcare decisions for you if you are incapacitated.

To execute a power of attorney or advance health care directive, you should work with an estate planning attorney to make sure all California legal requirements are met, and you must do so while you are still of sound mind. 

It is critical you consider carefully who you want making decisions in your place. You may elect to have separate individuals act as your agent for financial and medical affairs. 

What is a Conservator?

Unlike a pre-selected, designated agent named in a power of attorney, a conservator is appointed by the court to act as a decision maker for another individual. Conservators may be appointed to act on behalf of elderly or incapacitated adults. Once conservatorship is imposed over another person, the conservator will make any financial, legal, or medical decisions allowed under the provisions of the conservatorship order.  A conservator who makes financial or legal decisions is often referred to as a conservator of the estate, while a conservator who makes medical decisions is often referred to as a conservator of the person.  

Often, a close friend or family member will be appointed as conservator, though any person assigned by the court who passes a background check and meets the courts’ criteria can be appointed conservator over another person. Conservatorships are most common in cases where individuals are suddenly incapacitated and did not plan in advance to set up a power of attorney. 

Conservatorships vs Powers of Attorney

Conservatorship proceedings can be an extremely stressful, protracted, and costly court process for family members to endure. Advance planning for POA’s will avoid the need for court intervention and conservatorship proceedings. With thoughtful consideration, you can retain a measure of control over your affairs by establishing financial and medical powers of attorney and assigning individuals you trust to make decisions on your behalf. 

Do You Need a California Estate Planning Attorney?

It’s essential that you prepare for life’s unexpected events and your eventual death by working with an experienced estate planning attorney. California estate planning, including powers of attorney and conservatorships, can be complex.

A knowledgeable California estate planning lawyer will assess your wishes, family dynamics, and overall estate to establish a plan that will benefit you and your loved ones in the event of a tragedy. 

Contact our office today to learn more about powers of attorney, conservatorships, and general estate planning tools. Contact us today.