A guardian is a person who has been appointed by a court to make health care and placement decisions for a minor, generally when they cannot do so themselves. An adult who has a guardian is called a "Ward."
A guardian is generally responsible for the care and custody of the Ward. This may include communicating with the Ward's doctors about the Ward's health, arranging for suitable placement for the Ward, whether that involves a secure unit at a facility or a residence with home health care services, arranging activities and services for the Ward, and maximizing the Ward's independence to the greatest extent possible. Colorado courts require that guardians submit an initial "care plan" within 60 days of appointment and then submit an annual report, detailing the Ward's condition and activities. In some instances, a guardian also could be responsible for the assets of the Ward when a conservator has not been appointed; information about the Ward's finances needs to be included on the Guardian's Report in that situation. Any move of the Ward to a different facility or residence needs to be reported to the court, and guardians are not allowed to move the Ward out of Colorado without court permission. The appointment of a guardian for a person does not automatically void the Ward's current medical power of attorney unless if the court's order states so.
A conservator is a person who has been appointed by a court to manage the property and financial affairs for an adult, generally when they cannot do so themselves. A person who has a conservator is called a "Protected Person."
A conservator's duties are dictated by the court's order and the conservator's Letters. However, a conservator for an adult is generally responsible for collecting and managing the property of the Protected Person, paying the Protected Person's bills, and perhaps maintaining the Protected Person's home even while they reside in a facility. A conservator needs to seek court approval before the Protected Person's residence can be sold. Colorado courts require that conservators submit an inventory with financial plan within 90 days of appointment, which details the value of the Protected Person's assets and lays out a budget for the Protected Person's finances for the future. Conservators usually also must submit to the court an annual report detailing the Protected Person's finances. The appointment of a conservator for a person does not automatically void the Protected Person's current financial power of attorney unless if the court's order states so.
A court visitor is appointed by the court when a petition for appointment of a guardian or a conservator is filed. A court visitor serves as the eyes and ears of the court and is appointed to talk with the individual who is the subject of the guardianship and/or conservatorship proceeding (the "Respondent"). They inform the Respondent about the proceedings and their rights, interview the Respondent, and submit a written report to the court. If the Respondent requests an attorney, the court is obligated to appoint one. A court visitor's appointment generally ends after their brief report is submitted to the court.
A guardian is appointed by a court to make decisions on behalf of a Ward. A guardian is not appointed until after a hearing with the court, where the court addresses the petition for appointment of a guardian and determines whether the Respondent needs one.A guardian ad litem is appointed by a court to represent the Respondent's "best interests." Even if the Respondent says he does not want or need a guardian, the guardian ad litem independently evaluates the Respondent's situation and makes suggestions to the court about what would be best for the Respondent. A guardian ad litem is usually not needed in situations without controversy. Usually a guardian ad litemis appointed at some point after a petition for appointment of a guardian and/or conservator is filed and then serves until the hearing where the court makes a decision on those petitions. A guardian ad litem is similar to a court visitor because both investigate the situation, are the court's eyes and ears in the case, and submit a report to the court. However, a guardian ad litem investigates the case in further depth than a court visitor and often in contested situations. A guardian ad litem may review the Respondent's medical records and interview Respondent's family members and doctors.
Medical and financial powers of attorney are generally referred to as a "poor man's" guardianships and conservatorships. Powers of attorney are very important documents that can save an individual the large expense of having to go through a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding down the road. Unfortunately, sometimes powers of attorney can fail if a bank does not honor them or an elderly individual is prone to exploitation by others. However, for most people powers of attorney are very effective for avoiding the appointment of a guardian or a conservator.