There are many aspects to family law. Many people think of divorce, adoption or child custody, but it's a wide legal field that emphasizes finding the best ways to take care of your family. One issue is how to care for family members who can't care for themselves. Children under the age of 18 have their own classification, but when our elders' heath begins to fail or, for vulnerable adult family members, you need to plan ahead to make sure they are protected.
Two terms that may be familiar are conservatorship and guardianship. Many Coloradans have a general idea of what those words mean, but they aren't familiar with the distinction between them. When it comes to legal rights, the details are essential. A simple explanation is that conservatorship refers to financial responsibility, whereas guardianship refers to care-giving responsibility.
A conservator is a court appointed adult to manage the finances of another adult who is unable to perform those duties on their own. The appointment is called a "protective proceeding" because a conservator's role is to look out for the protected person's financial well-being, whether that refers to daily expenses, property management or running a business. There are guidelines to minimize business-related conflicts of interest with an appointee.
A guardian is to manage an adult's physical well-being when that adult is unable to do so. It involves making health care and other important decisions to protect their safety. Often, guardianship refers to vulnerable adults, special needs family members and senior citizens in declining health.
Guardianship also applies to having legal control of a minor. This is another element of the law, where parents may name friends or family members to care for their children if something should happen to them. Guardianship of a minor can be temporary or permanent.
Making the right choice
While the legal definitions point to administrative duties, both positions include ethical decision-making and personal liability as well. Making sure your loved ones are in good hands requires trustworthy personal traits. When you're facing difficult decisions about your family members, it's important to make sure you've explored all of your options with an experienced attorney.
Family law is complex and nuanced. Each situation is unique and each family has different circumstances. Whether you need a guardian, conservator or another method to care for your loved ones, Colorado law provides a framework of protection.