Guardianship vs Power of Attorney: What’s the difference?

When creating an estate plan, an attorney might suggest including power of attorney in the documents. Initially, you might think this is the same as guardianship.

While both of these roles play an important part in making decisions on your behalf if you’re incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself, it’s essential to understand how these are similar, and what the key differences are between the two.

Learn more about guardianship and power of attorney below.


When guardianship is assigned, the person appointed by the court will be able to make decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated and cannot make decisions on your own.

If you suffer from a physical or mental disability, you will need someone to serve as your guardian. This person will be responsible for making all of your decisions related to health care, finances, personal affairs, and other issues that come up.

There are three types of guardianship:

  • Full guardianship

Under full guardianship, the court will give a person complete responsibility and decision-making ability or authority over another person. This can include control of their financial, legal, and personal affairs.

  • Limited guardianship

With limited guardianship, this typically gives a person responsibility for selected needs of another person, like property and/or healthcare. Other decisions would be made by others.

  • Joint guardianship

With joint guardianship, there would be more than a single guardian appointed. These two individuals will work together to make decisions on behalf of the person.

Power of Attorney

Different from guardianship, power of attorney is not a court-appointed person. Instead, it is a legal document that allows someone to make decisions on your behalf. You can select who this person is, and name them in your estate plan.

This person can make decisions related to your finances, health care, personal affairs, and other matters as stated in the power of attorney document. When creating the document with your estate planning attorney, you can determine if you want to limit the power of attorney to specific decisions, or if you want a general power of attorney that allows the person to make all decisions on your behalf.

Power of attorney is usually used when you are still able to make decisions for yourself but want to appoint someone in case you lose the ability to do so.

Your estate planning attorney can help you define the specifications of the power of attorney, and help you determine who you want to appoint as power of attorney.

While the biggest difference between guardianship and power of attorney is that guardianship is a court-appointed process for making decisions on behalf of someone who isn’t able, and power of attorney refers to a legal document that gives someone permission to make decisions for another person, it’s essential to talk to an estate planning attorney to fully understand the differences between the two and the pros and cons for both.

Why Hire Us

Make sure you appoint a power of attorney with your estate planning attorney. This is an essential step to ensuring your wishes will be followed if you were to fall ill and not be able to make decisions for yourself. To learn the difference between the power of attorney and guardianship, let our estate planning attorneys at Johnstone Adams LLC help you.

Ranked in the 2023 U.S. News – Best Lawyers® “Best Law Firms” list regionally in 12 practice areas, we have experts in many areas of law to give our clients top-notch representation. In business for more than a century, our firm can mix its experience with the ability to evolve with the changing times.

To get started, contact us at 844-682-7682 or

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