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Do You Need a Guardianship and/or Conservatorship?

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You may think that you have to get a guardianship and/or conservatorship when someone close to you is losing capacity. A guardianship allows the court to appoint someone to make decisions over a person when the person can no longer do so themselves. A conservatorship is the same concept except over that person’s property. Some states just use a guardianship to cover both roles. Obtaining a guardianship over someone would give you the most legal authority to make decisions on their behalf. However, the potential benefit of a guardianship may not outweigh the cost in your situation. Here are some questions you should ask yourself, and the attorney you consult with, when considering pursing a guardianship:

What are you currently unable to do without a guardianship/conservatorship?

You probably need a guardianship if the potential ward is a danger to themselves or others, refusing necessary medical care or generally unstable. You will want to consider an emergency petition to get appointed sooner if the potential ward is a danger to themselves or others. A guardianship would allow you to admit the ward to a hospital or other healthcare facility. A health care power of attorney probably does not give you this power and if it does, it will not be as forceful.

You probably need a conservatorship if your mother has dementia and is writing checks to strangers on a daily basis. However, if all of her assets are in a trust and she is no longer acting as trustee, this should not be a concern. Further, a representative payee manages funds from Social Security. If Social Security income is the only asset, you may just need to become the representative payee.

What is the cost of a guardianship?

Getting appointed guardian and/or conservator will probably cost you at least few thousand dollars in attorney’s fees. Depending on your county/state, you may also have to pay something like a couple thousand dollars in court fees. In Arizona, there will be a court appointed attorney to represent the potential ward’s interest. There will also be a court appointed investigator who acts as a neutral party in reporting whether a guardianship is necessary.

You will need to get a doctor’s report saying that the potential ward is incapacitated and in need of a guardian. You will have to complete an annual guardian report. The report includes information like the ward’s most recent doctor appointment, how often you see the ward, have there been any changes in the ward’s health, etc. As conservator you will have to provide an annual accounting to the court.

You should consider alternatives to a guardianship and/or conservatorship that are less costly and time consuming, if they accomplish your main goals.

Are you a named agent under powers of attorney?

If not, does the potential ward have capacity to execute new powers of attorney. Financial and health care powers of attorney may give you all the authority you need. If all you need is access to medical and financial information so you can help make medical decisions and manage assets, it probably is not worth pursuing a guardianship/conservatorship. If you need to prevent the potential ward from making irresponsible medical or financial decisions on their own, a guardianship/conservatorship would be more appropriate.


You have considered all of these factors and, hopefully, consulted with an attorney. Now it is your decision whether to pursue a guardianship. It may be the case that you can obtain a doctor’s report but do not necessarily need a guardianship. You may be able to provide the support and care required through powers of attorney. Ultimately, you should do what makes sense and feels right to you.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.