Guardian, Conservator, Executor, Power of Attorney—It’s all too confusing!

There are many legal terms for the roles we can play in an older adults life. Have you ever been asked if you are the guardian or the power of attorney for someone? What does it mean when you hear that someone is the executor or trustee for someone else? How about conservator—what is that? Here is a quick primer on all of these terms:

Guardian– A guardian is a person appointed by the court to make healthcare and other mostly non-financial decisions for someone who cannot make these types of decisions because of incapacity. Think of this as control of the physical person.

Conservator– A conservator is a person appointed by the court to take care of someone’s finances when he or she cannot make these types of decisions because of incapacity.

Power of Attorney– A legal document used to name someone to take over your medical and/or financial decisions. The person you name becomes your “healthcare agent” and/or “financial agent.”

Trustee– The person(s) named in a trust to handle the assets in a trust and to carry out the instructions of the trust. The trustee’s responsibilities are outlined in the trust.

Executor/Personal Representative– The person named in a will to handle the assets of a deceased person’s estate and to carry out the instructions in the will.

Next of Kin– The person who is the closest related to another adult as defined by state law. For most states, the order of next kin goes from spouse, to adult children, to parent(s), to siblings, etc.

There are many roles and legal terms in the elder law world. It is important that the terms are used correctly as they all have very different meanings. We often hear from family members that assume they are the healthcare agent because they are listed in the will as the executor. These are very different legal issues and very different roles.

We also hear from individuals that assume a guardianship is in place because an advance directive has been completed. It is so important to be clear on what role you may have in your loved one’s life and what documents have been (or should be) executed.

If you have any questions about these terms or legal processes, please call our office at (404) 843-0121 or email us at

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