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The differences between guardianships and powers of attorney

On Behalf of | May 30, 2024 | Estate Planning

When it comes to making decisions for someone unable to make them for themselves, two legal arrangements often come into play: guardianships and powers of attorney.

While both serve similar purposes, they have key differences that are important to understand.


A guardianship is a legal relationship where one person, known as the guardian, is appointed by the court to make decisions for another person, known as the ward. The court establishes guardianships when an individual becomes incapacitated and cannot make decisions regarding their health, finances or personal matters. The court oversees these actions.

Powers of attorney

A power of attorney is a legal document that grants authority to another person, known as the agent or attorney-in-fact, to make decisions on behalf of the individual creating the power of attorney, known as the principal. Unlike guardianships, the principle establishes powers of attorney while they are still capable of making their own decisions. Individuals may limit powers of attorney to specific tasks.

Key differences

One of the main differences between guardianships and powers of attorney is the level of control and oversight. In a guardianship, the court has ultimate authority over the decisions made by the guardian. In a power of attorney, the principal retains the ability to revoke or modify the document as long as they remain mentally competent.

Guardianships are more complex and involve court proceedings, which can be time-consuming and expensive. Individuals can establish powers of attorney relatively easily through a legal document. Guardianships also occur when the individual is already incapacitated, while individuals create powers of attorney before any incapacity occurs.

Understanding these differences between guardianships and powers of attorney can help individuals and their families make informed decisions about their future care and decision-making.