The Difference Between a Conservator and Guardian

There are actually two separate roles that should be named for minor children in an estate plan. The same person can be delineated for both roles but oftentimes parents decide to choose different people to perform these two disparate roles.

The conservator is the person who would manage your estate’s finances in the event you are no longer able to do so due to incapacitation or death. A child still struggling to grasp the intangible nature of monetary value won’t be able to manage a complex estate, including the variety of assets and potentially complex investment and financial vehicles it contains. The role of managing finances is also separate from day-to-day parenting duties, so it makes sense to view these as two separate responsibilities.

The guardian would be the party responsible for raising the children and caring for their physical wellbeing. In the event of your death or incapacitation this is the person who would assume the role of meeting your children’s day-to-day needs and ensuring their well-being and happiness until they become adults.

Choosing the Right Conservator and Guardian for Your Family

The conservator in charge of managing the financial aspects of your estate should ideally be someone you trust who has displayed an ability to act in a financially responsible manner. This person should be a person who has the bandwidth to take on this added burden to ensure they’re giving your estate, and in this scenario your children’s estate, the time and attention it deserves.

If you have close, trusted family or friends who are attorneys, accountants, financial planners or similar professionals with intimate knowledge of finances, those people may be excellent choices. These types of professionals are often busy, so it’s important to choose someone you believe will be able to give your children’s inherited estate adequate attention.

Just because someone is good with finances doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be a great parent.

What’s probably most important, from your perspective as a parent of minor children, is choosing a guardian who has the requisite compassion and temperament to raise children and shares the values you consider to be most important.

If you’re religious and want to make sure your children are raised in a household that practices the same denominational tenants you and your spouse practice, make sure
you’re choosing guardians accordingly.

Ideally, you’ll want to find a guardian who can take all your children, but if you have several or the person or persons you’re considering already have a large family of their own, it may not be a feasible burden to expect one person or family to carry. If you are in a situation where you need to choose multiple guardians, consider factors like geographic nearness to minimize sibling separation as much as possible, if that’s in your children’s best interest.

Money can be a factor as well. Although the guardian you’d choose may be able to use some of your estate’s money to pay for the many expenses of child rearing, having to raise extra children will likely hoist upon them additional financial burdens they don’t currently face. The family you choose should be financially stable and capable of shouldering those extra expenses.

A lot of these decisions come down to common sense. If you’re a conservative and want your children raised with the same values, you likely won’t want to choose progressive relatives, even if they are great parents. Likewise, if you have a kindhearted brother or sister who is great with kids but is always struggling with credit card debt and other financial issues, they may not be the best choice for conservator of the estate.

Also consider longevity and health. Your parents may have done a great job with you, but think about their age, mobility, energy and other factors when deciding whether the person you’re choosing will have the physical endurance necessary to raise your children to adulthood.

Before you put anything in writing it’s important to talk to the people you’re considering about conservatorship or guardianship. Although the scenario in which they may be called upon to take on these duties is hopefully highly unlikely, it’s still important to get the potential conservator’s or guardian’s confirmation and commitment prior to making it official.

Drafting Documents and Crafting Your Estate Plan

It’s important for your grandchildren and children to be protected should the unthinkable happen. If you have grandkids, ask their parents if your grandchildren are protected with the right legal documents. If not, have them give us a call (616) 361-8400.

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