There are some people who, as they age, may need help to do their daily activities. If their physical and cognitive abilities decline, a family member or another person may step in to assist them. For some people, official legal action may be needed in order to fully help that person. A court may decide to grant a conservatorship, which is when someone becomes the legal guardian of an adult. For families here in Massachusetts who aren’t familiar, here is a brief explanation of what a conservatorship entails.

A conservatorship is granted by a court when a person doesn’t have the mental abilities to make his or her own choices. The person may have an illness such as Alzheimer’s, be in a coma or have a permanent mental disability that inhibits the individual from making informed choices. The conservatorship can differ in length, which could be short term, temporary or permanent. It may also only cover certain aspects of a person’s life, such as financial decisions or those that pertain to the person’s physical well-being. The conservatorship could also be full, meaning the conservator can make all choices for the person, or it may be limited, only allowing the conservator to have control over specific areas.

Conservatorship may sound similar to a power of attorney, but the latter is a choice made by the person while the former is court-appointed. The conservator is charged with making choices for the ward with his or her best interests in mind, without using any of the ward’s assets for personal gain. That being said, a conservator can be paid for his or her services, but must provide proper documentation.

For those in Massachusetts who have questions about whether conservatorship is the best choice for someone in their family, an attorney with extensive experience in estate planning may be the best guide. A conservatorship as part of an overall estate plan makes sense for many people. The most important thing is that the person to be covered by the conservatorship receives proper care.