What is the difference between guardianship and conservatorship?

A guardian has responsibility over the ward's health care and well-being, whereas a conservator has responsibility over the ward's finances and assets.  Be aware that a guardian may be able to handle regular income such as pension or Social Security without a conservatorship.

There are three types of guardianships granted and overseen by the Probate Court:

  • Adult Guardianships are used when an individual is impaired by mental illness, mental deficiency, physical illness or disability, chronic use of drugs, chronic intoxication or other cause so that they lack sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate informed decisions and need someone to make such decisions for them.

    In full adult guardianship, the guardian may attend to the ward's needs; however, in limited adult guardianship, the guardian may only act for the purposes stated in the Letters of Guardianship.
  • Minor Guardianships are used to provide legal authority for adults, other than the parents of the minor, to take care of the minor for a short or long time because the parent or parents of the minor are unwilling or unable to safely and adequately care for their child. While a minor guardianship is in place the guardian, and not the parent, has the right and responsibility to make decisions about and care for the minor child.  

    A full minor guardianship may be initiated by anyone, as long as certain criteria are met.  A limited guardianship is a voluntary guardianship that may only be initiated by a parent who has physical custody of the child.  Also, the full/limited guardian powers differ.  In full minor guardianship, the guardian may consent to marriage or adoption; however, in limited minor guardianship, the guardian may not consent to either marriage or adoption.
  • Developmentally Disabled Guardianships are used when an individual who is over five years of age has a severe, chronic condition which meets certain requirements.  A guardianship for a developmentally disabled person should be undertaken only to promote and protect the well-being of the ward and encourage the development of maximum self-reliance for the ward. The guardianship should be limited by the court based on the developmentally disabled individual's actual mental and adaptive limitations.


In a minor guardianship, the petitioner files in the county where the minor resides or is present at the time the proceeding is commenced.

In guardianship for an incapacitated individual or a developmentally disabled individual, the petitioner files in the county where the incapacitated/developmentally disabled individual resides or is present. If the incapacitated individual is admitted to an institution by court order, the petitioner would file in the county in which that court is located.

What do I do as a guardian if the ward dies?

If a ward dies, the guardian must provide a copy of the death certificate to the court within 14 days so that the file may be closed and the guardian may be released.

What situation justifies an emergency hearing on guardianship?

An emergency guardianship hearing would be warranted when medical decisions are immediately necessary to save the ward from serious injury, illness, or death.  If an emergency hearing is requested, Lenawee County Probate Court requires an Affidavit of Physician/Psychologist that clearly states the nature of the medical emergency.  Any hearing that is scheduled for a date and time other than the next regularly scheduled hearing date is considered an emergency hearing.

Who pays the guardian ad litem (GAL) fees for adult guardianship cases?

Generally, GAL fees are paid from the ward's estate.