Conservatorship Georgia & Guardianship Handbook

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Guardianships and conservatorships allow a person to be there in a decision-making capacity for individuals who are incapacitated either through illness or injury, or who have not yet reached the legal adult age (18). The process to become a conservator or guardian is a complex, and no one in Georgia should go through it alone.

This short guide can help you get moving on the process. If you have any questions as you read through, please don’t hesitate to reach out.


What is a Guardianship?

A guardianship is a legal relationship between a court-appointed guardian and an incapacitated person or minor child. The guardianship arrangement is established to provide for the care and protection of a person who cannot care for themselves.

Guardians are responsible for ensuring the ward has adequate medical attention, a place to live, adequate food, etc. This is in contrast to a conservator, who looks after the financial side of a person’s well-being.

Any “interested person” in Georgia may file a petition for the appointment of him or herself or some other qualified person as guardian of an incapacitated person and, if so appointed by the judge in a court such as Dekalb, may serve in that capacity.

An “interested person” is an individual interested in the welfare of an incapacitated person and is not himself a minor, ward, or protected person.

What is a Conservatorship?

Similar to guardianship, a conservatorship is a legal relationship between the court and a person (known as a Conservator) appointed by the probate court judge to manage the financial affairs such as filing taxes, paying bills, creating a budget, taking care of the ward’s financial investments, and other related tasks.

A conservator has no authority to make decisions regarding the person’s personal affairs, such as health care decisions. This responsibility is left up to the guardian.

The conservator must make decisions in the best interest of the person whose finances they manage and keep an accurate record of all transactions. The conservator can also protect the person from financial exploitation or abuse.

Creation of Guardianships for Minors

A minor is anyone who is “under 18 years of age and who is not emancipated.” (1) Georgia law identifies five categories of guardians for a minor:


By Georgia law, each parent is considered the “natural guardian” of their minor child. (2) If the parents are divorced, and one parent has sole custody of the minor, that parent is also the sole natural guardian.


Every parent may nominate a testamentary guardian or conservator for their minor child in their Will. Upon probate of the Will, letters of guardianship/conservatorship will be issued to the individual nominated without notice or hearing by the probate court unless the minor has another living parent (natural guardian) or the individual nominated is unwilling the serve. (3)


When a health care professional has determined that a parent or guardian cannot care for a minor because of a physical, mental, or health condition, a “standby” guardian may be designated.

However, the appointment of a standby guardian does not relieve a parent of their duty to support the minor. (4) A standby guardianship is generally effective for 120 days unless the designating individual revokes it. (5)


Any individual having physical custody of a minor may file a petition to be appointed a temporary guardian of the minor. The granting of temporary guardianship of a minor does not permanently terminate the parents’ parental rights.

Temporary guardians hold all of the powers of a natural guardian, except temporary guardians may not receive the personal property of the minor without first becoming the legally qualified conservator of the minor. (6)

A temporary guardianship terminates on the date one of the following occurs:

  1. The minor reaches the age of 18,
  2. The minor is adopted,
  3. The minor is emancipated,
  4. The minor dies,
  5. The temporary guardian dies,
  6. Letters of guardianship are issued to a permanent or testamentary guardian, or
  7. A court order terminating temporary guardianship is entered. (7)


A permanent guardian may be appointed for a minor with no living parents or, after notice to the parents without objection when the parents fail to care for the minor properly. (8) Permanent guardianship of a minor, though similar, is not the same as legal custody of a minor, which may be granted only by superior or juvenile courts in Georgia.

Creation of Conservatorships for Minors

A conservator may be required if a minor inherits money or personal property not in a trust or under the management of a testamentary conservator, when a minor has received an award of damages in a personal injury lawsuit, or when a minor is the named beneficiary of life insurance or retirement benefits.9

Any person may file a petition for the appointment of a conservator of a minor in the probate court of the county in which the minor is found or in which the proposed conservator is domiciled.

Creation of Guardianships and Conservatorships for Adults

An “adult” is an individual who is either 18 years of age or older or an emancipated minor. (11) A guardian may be appointed by the probate court for an adult when there is clear and convincing evidence that the adult lacks sufficient capacity to make or communicate significant responsible decisions regarding their health or safety.

(12) Likewise, a conservator may be appointed when there is clear and convincing evidence that the adult cannot make such decisions regarding their property. (13)

The issue of when a guardian or conservator is needed depends not on whether the proposed ward has mismanaged their affairs but whether they cannot manage their affairs properly.

Before a guardian or conservator can be appointed, the court must determine the proposed ward to be incapacitated. No one may be appointed as the guardian or conservator of an adult unless such an appointment is in the adult’s best interest. (14)

Who May Serve?

Any individual or entity may serve as the guardian or conservator of an incapacitated adult unless the individual is a minor, ward, or protected person or has any conflict of interest with the proposed ward. (15) Any “interested person” may file a petition in the probate court of the county where the proposed ward is “domiciled or found.” (16)

Nomination of A Guardian/Conservator – An adult may nominate an individual to serve as their guardian or conservator if a court subsequently finds the adult incapacitated. A spouse, adult child, or parent may also nominate an individual to serve as the guardian or conservator of the adult. (17)

Appointment of Emergency Guardians – An emergency guardian may be appointed for an adult when there is an immediate and substantial risk of death or serious physical injury, illness, or disease. (18)

Appointment of Emergency Conservators – An emergency conservator may be appointed for an adult when there is an immediate and substantial risk of irreparable waste or dissipation of the proposed ward’s property. (19)

Appointment of Temporary Medical Consent Guardians – Appointment only for a limited time and only to consent to medical treatment not prohibited by law. (20)

Such individuals may be designated in an advance directive for health care or durable power of attorney for health care or otherwise by the relation in the following order of priority:

  • One spouse for the other;

  • Any adult child for their parent;

  • Any parent for their adult child;

  • Any adult for their brother or sister;

  • Any grandparent for their grandchild;

  • Any adult grandchild for their grandparent; or

  • Any adult niece, nephew, aunt, or uncle of the patient who is related to the patient in the first degree. (21)

Powers of Guardians

Guardians are generally empowered to arrange and expend money for the support, care, education, health, and welfare of a minor or ward. In effect, a guardian has powers similar to a parent over a child. (22) Guardians are also vested with the power to:

  • Take custody of the minor or ward and establish their place of dwelling within the state;

  • Give consent to or approval of medical or other professional care, counsel, treatment, or services for the minor or ward;

  • Bring, defend, or participate in any legal, equitable, or administrative proceedings on behalf of the minor or ward; and

  • In the case of a minor, the guardian may surrender rights to enable the minor’s adoption. (23)

Additionally, the probate court may empower the guardian to:

  • Establish the minor’s or ward’s place of dwelling outside this state;

  • Change the jurisdiction of the guardianship to another county within this state, that is, the county of the minor’s or ward’s dwelling;

  • Change the domicile of the minor or ward to the guardian’s place of dwelling;

  • Consent to the marriage of the minor;

  • Bring an action for the divorce of the ward;

  • Consent to the adoption of the ward;

  • Receive reasonable compensation from the estate of the minor or ward for services rendered; and

  • If there is no conservator, to disclaim or renounce any property or interest in property of the minor or ward. (24)

Power of Conservators

Conservators are generally empowered to receive, collect, and make decisions regarding a minor’s or ward’s property. Such power includes the authority to:

  • Make reasonable disbursements of annual income;

  • Enter into and fulfill certain contracts;

  • Compromise certain doubtful claims and debts;

  • Engage in and defend litigation;

  • Make certain investments on behalf of the minor or ward; and

  • Appoint an attorney in such matters above. (25)

The probate court may additionally grant the conservator continuing powers with regard to investments, the sale, rental, lease, or disposal of property, or the operation of a farm or business in which the minor or ward has an interest. (26)

Duties of Guardians and Conservators

Every guardian and conservator is obligated to act, at all times, as a fiduciary in the minor’s or ward’s best interest, exercising reasonable care, diligence, and prudence in the performance of their duties as if they were attending to their affairs. (27)

Every guardian and conservator has a duty to:

  • Protect, maintain, and educate the minor or ward;

  • Maintain undivided loyalty to the minor or ward;

  • Act above all suspicion to ensure that the minor or ward receives their
    unbiased and uninfluenced judgment;

  • Never place themself in a position where their individual interests
    conflict or may conflict with the interest of the minor or ward;

  • Notify the probate court of any conflict of interest that might arise;

  • Never use the minor’s or ward’s funds for personal profit or otherwise convert the
    minor’s or ward’s property for personal use, either directly or indirectly; and

  • Avoid situations in which they are a successor or remainderman of a substantial
    portion of the minor’s or ward’s estate.

Contact an Experienced Georgia Conservatorship Lawyer

If you wish to grant guardianship or conservatorship rights over a minor or another person, it is highly recommended that you contact an experienced probate attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. A knowledgeable attorney can provide you with guidance and assistance in filing the petition with the court and represent your interests throughout the proceedings.

Additionally, the court can appoint an attorney to act on behalf of the minor or ward if necessary. An experienced Georgia conservatorship lawyer can help you understand the process and ensure that you take the appropriate steps to obtain a proper guardianship or conservatorship.

To schedule a free initial 15-minute phone call with an attorney, contact The Law Office of Paul Black at 404.383.6585.

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