Power of Attorney vs. Guardianship: Key Differences and Choosing the Right Option

The concepts of Power of Attorney (POA) and guardianship are both legal mechanisms to manage someone’s affairs, but they serve different purposes and are established through different processes. These tools are crucial for individuals planning for the future management of their personal, financial, and healthcare decisions in case they become incapacitated. Understanding the distinctions between them can help ensure that the appropriate legal framework is in place to protect the interests and well-being of those involved.

Power of Attorney (POA)

Definition: A Power of Attorney is a legal document that grants one person (the agent or attorney-in-fact) the authority to act on behalf of another person (the principal) in specified or all legal or financial matters.


  • General POA: Provides broad powers to the agent to handle all financial and legal matters.
  • Limited or Special POA: Grants specific powers for certain tasks or a limited period.
  • Durable POA: Remains in effect even if the principal becomes incapacitated.
  • Medical POA: Allows the agent to make healthcare decisions if the principal is unable to do so.

Establishment: Created by the principal, who must be competent at the time of signing. It is typically notarized but not court appointed.

Revocation: The principal can revoke the POA at any time as long as they are competent.

Scope: The scope of the POA is defined by the principal and can be as broad or as limited as desired.


Definition: Guardianship is a court-appointed relationship where a guardian is given the authority to make decisions for another person (the ward) who is deemed unable to manage their own affairs due to age, incapacity, or disability.


Guardianship of the Person: Involves decisions about personal matters, such as healthcare, living arrangements, and personal welfare.

Conservatorship of the Estate: Involves managing the financial affairs and property of the ward.

General or Full Guardianship/Conservatorship: The guardian has comprehensive authority over both personal and financial matters.

Limited Guardianship: The guardian has authority over specific areas of the ward’s life.

Establishment: Initiated through a court process, often involving a petition, a hearing, and sometimes medical evaluations to determine the need for guardianship/conservatorship. The court decides based on the best interests of the ward.

Revocation: Guardianship/Conservatorship can only be terminated by the court, usually if the ward regains capacity or if the guardian/conservator is found to be unsuitable.

Scope: The guardian’s/conservator’s powers and responsibilities are determined by the court and are often subject to ongoing court supervision.

Key Differences

Authority: POA is granted by an individual voluntarily, while guardianship/conservatorship is court-appointed.

Establishment: POA is a private arrangement, while guardianship/conservatorship requires court involvement.

Scope and Control: POA may be limited and specific, while guardianship/conservatorship may often involve broader and more comprehensive control.

Revocation: POA can be revoked by the principal at any time if competent, whereas guardianship/conservatorship can only be ended by a court.

Understanding these differences can help in choosing the appropriate legal mechanism based on the needs and circumstances of the individual requiring assistance. If you need help making the best choice for your specific situation, reach out to our office. Wilson Law can provide tailored advice and help you navigate the complexities of POA and guardianship/conservatorship, ensuring you and your loved one’s interests are adequately protected. To schedule an appointment, call our office at 866-603-5976 or fill out our contact form and we will be in touch to schedule a meeting.