Legal terms can be confusing. Under California law, there is something known as a guardianship and something else known as conservatorship. While people often interchange the two words, technically, “guardianship” refers to children and “conservatorship” to an adult.

Someone, a guardian or a conservator, is legally put in charge of a person or an estate. It happens when someone is unable to look after themselves or their estate because they are too young, mentally incapable, or dead.

You can nominate a guardian or conservator in advance as part of estate planning. If you haven’t, they can be proposed by your family or chosen by a court when required. Let’s look at some examples of when they might be needed:

  • A guardian for a child: A guardian can look after your child if you die before they turn 18. It would automatically be the other parent in most cases. However, if the child is left parentless, someone else needs to take over the parent’s role. If you know you are dying, you could give someone joint guardianship, which means that they help you until you die, then they take over.
  • A guardian of an estate: If you die before your child is 18, they are not old enough to manage the estate you leave them. A guardian of the estate can do this until the child reaches 18.
  • A conservator for yourself: If you have an accident that leaves you unable to make decisions, your chosen person can make decisions for you. It is known as a limited conservatorship if their role is to look after you only. If they also have the power to make decisions about your estate, this would be a general conservatorship.

Thorough estate planning allows you to control the future of your children, your estate, and yourself. Be proactive in your approach so that you have the security you need.