Guardianship & Conservatorship

Courts appoint guardians to care for another adult when they cannot care for themselves or manage their finances

Incompetency is a legal term, not a medical one. It means that a person DOES NOT the ability to remember, reason, or understand the consequences of actions (Competency and Incompetency, n.d.). In law, it means the person CANNOT make legally binding decisions. Only judges can declare individuals incompetent. Healthcare providers cannot decide if an individual incompetent. However, healthcare providers may give their opinion to judges to help them reach their decision.

When a judge decides an individual is incompetent, he or she assigns another person to make these decisions on behalf of the individual. The appointed person is called legal guardian (National Guardianship Association, n.d.).  Depending on state of residence, appointing a legal guardian is called guardianship or conservatorship. Guardianship may be required in some cases of self-neglect. Guardianship is a last resort, after all other possible solutions have been considered (National Guardianship Association, n.d.).

There are alternatives to guardianship/conservatorship:

  • Advance Directives
    • Power of attorney for health care is an option for individuals who cannot make their own health care decisions, but who need long term care
    • Power of attorney for financial management is an option when the person is unable to manage his or her own finances
    • Living will
  • Trust
  • Case/care management services
  • Representative payeeship for public benefits
  • Health care surrogate acts can all be explored as alternative to guardianship (North Carolina Health and Human Services, n.d.).

Each state has a bar association, guardianship association, and local social service agencies that offer alternative solutions.


National Guardianship Association. (n.d.). What is Guardianship. Retrieved

North Carolina Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Guardianship and alternatives to guardianship. Retrieved from 


Last updated: June 7, 2020 at 16:40 pm by
I. M. Abumaria, Doctor of Nursing Practice
Version 2.00