In most states, the terms “guardian” and “conservator” are interchangeable. They each refer to a person who is appointed to make decisions regarding living arrangements, medical care, financial and personal matters of a person, referred to legally as a “ward”, who is no longer capable of making such decisions for himself. A guardian or conservator may be appointed by a person who is likely to need their services in the future, or may be court-appointed when the need arises if arrangements have not been addressed.

State laws differ regarding the permission of a conservator. For example, in one state a conservator may be allowed to execute a will on behalf of a ward, whereas another state may not allow such. In addition, one state may allow a conservator to transfer assets out of an estate in order to make a ward eligible for Medicaid, while another state may not.

In some instances, the estate of a ward may be controlled by one appointed guardian while the ward himself is overseen by a separate appointed guardian. In this case, the guardian of the estate will hold ultimate control over the guardian of the person.

This is because the money spent or assets liquidated to pay expenses will require approval of the guardian of the estate anyway. If conflicts arise between the two, the issue may be mediated in probate court. At that time, a decision will be made with the best interests of the ward taken into account.

Guardianship and conservatorships require strict accountability. Regular reports must be filed with the probate court in which the appointment took place.