Power of Attorney vs. Guardianship: Key Differences

Power of attorney and guardianship both assist in decision-making during incapacitation.

One allows you to choose your representative, which is the power of attorney, while guardianship involves the court selecting one for you.

Power of Attorney vs. Guardianship: Key Differences
Power of Attorney vs. Guardianship. Source (Reddit)

What is Power of Attorney?

Giving someone power of attorney means entrusting them with your important decisions.

The extent of their authority and when it becomes effective depends on state laws and your specific documentation.

  • Healthcare power of attorney: Makes medical decisions when you can’t.
  • Financial power of attorney: Manages your finances, which can be made “durable” to continue if you’re incapacitated.

You must be of sound mind to appoint an agent, requiring trust and open communication.

While comforting, remember that power of attorney ends at death and doesn’t replace funeral or estate planning.

What is Guardianship?

Guardianship, like power of attorney, involves someone making decisions for you if you can’t.

The key difference is that guardianship is court-appointed.

To become a guardian, one typically files a petition in your county, backed by a physician’s documentation of your incapacity. If approved, you become their “ward,” granting them rights similar to a parent’s over a child.

They can handle health, financial, and legal matters and access your assets for your care.

Unlike power of attorney, you might not choose your guardian, potentially resulting in someone other than your preferred decision-maker.

Power of attorney can be set up in advance

To become a guardian, you must go through paperwork and a court hearing, which can take time. In contrast, having a power of attorney (POA) is more efficient.

You provide a copy to the care team or financial institution with your ID and can act as the agent immediately.

Guardianship can be contested

When someone seeks guardianship for an older adult, the older person can contest it in court, even representing themselves or with a lawyer if mentally competent.

If multiple individuals want to be the guardian, like two siblings vying for their aging parent’s care, it adds complexity, as the court assesses their character and resources.

Planning ahead can give your family peace

End-of-life planning is vital to avoid family stress during crises.

Seek advice from friends, family, and an attorney to make informed choices.