What Is the Difference Between Guardianship and Power of Attorney?

Unexpected circumstances can render individuals incapable of making decisions for themselves. Fortunately, legal mechanisms like guardianship and power of attorney (POA) come into play to protect their best interests.

While both concepts serve a similar purpose, they have distinctions that everyone should understand. Read on to explore the difference between power of attorney and guardianship.

Having a Guardian Vs. Power of Attorney: Understanding the Basics

Guardianship and power of attorney differ significantly in several aspects.


Guardianship is a legal relationship where a court appoints a person (the guardian) to make decisions on behalf of another individual (the ward). This arrangement is ideal when the ward cannot make sound decisions due to incapacity, such as mental illness, disability, or old age. 

After confirmation of incapacity, a judge typically decides who will serve as the guardian based on what they deem best for the ward. The guardian assumes the responsibility of making personal, financial, and medical decisions for the ward.

Power of Attorney (POA)

Power of Attorney is a legal document that allows an individual (the agent or attorney-in-fact) to make decisions on behalf of another person (the principal). Unlike guardianship, a POA arrangement occurs when the principal is of sound mind and can specify the extent of authority granted to the agent.

The principal decides in advance who will manage their affairs and hires an estate planning attorney to draft the document. The POA is typically limited in scope and duration, granting authority only until the principal regains competence or passes away. 

There are various types of power of attorney, including:

  • Durable POA: Valid even if the principal becomes incapacitated
  • General POA: Gives the agent broad powers to act on behalf of the principal
  • Springing POA: Becomes effective upon the principal’s incapacitation
  • Medical POA: Appoints a person to make medical decisions for the principal
  • Limited POA: Grants the agent limited powers for a specific purpose

Is Power of Attorney the Same as Guardianship?

The short answer is no. The primary difference between POA and guardianship lies in the timing of the arrangement and the decision-making capacity of the individual involved. 

The individual establishes a POA while they are still mentally competent. In contrast, the court assigns a guardian when the ward becomes incapacitated.

Here are other differences between the two:

  • Decision-Making Authority: In a POA, the principal retains the right to make decisions and can grant specific powers to an agent. With guardianship, the ward loses decision-making authority, and the guardian assumes full responsibility.
  • Revocability: The principal can revoke the POA if they are mentally competent. However, only the court can modify or terminate guardianship.
  • Extent of Authority: A POA tailors the agent’s authority to the principal’s wishes for a more specific arrangement. Guardianship is more comprehensive, encompassing a wider range of decision-making.
  • Oversight: A POA arrangement might involve less court oversight compared to guardianship, which often requires the guardian to report to the court regularly.

Does Guardianship Override Power of Attorney?

Yes, guardianship can override power of attorney. Once the court appoints a guardian to make decisions for the ward, the guardian’s authority supersedes that of an agent in a POA document. Guardianship is a more authoritative arrangement since it involves a court’s determination of incapacity.

Who Can Override a Power of Attorney?

When concerns arise about the agent’s behavior or decisions, interested parties can seek legal intervention to challenge the POA arrangement. They could be family members, healthcare providers, or the principal themself if they regain capacity. Additionally, a court can intervene if it suspects that the agent is acting against the principal’s best interests.

Pros and Cons of Guardianship Vs. Power of Attorney

The advantages and disadvantages of guardianship and POA depend on the circumstances and personal preferences. 



  • It provides comprehensive decision-making authority when the ward is unable to make decisions.
  • Court oversight helps ensure the guardian acts in the ward’s best interests.
  • It’s appropriate for situations where the individual lacks capacity, and there’s a need for long-term, ongoing decisions.


  • It involves a more complex legal process and associated costs.
  • It strips the ward of decision-making autonomy.
  • It requires regular reporting to the court.

Power of Attorney


  • It allows the principal to choose their agent and tailor the arrangement to their preferences.
  • It’s generally easier and less expensive to establish than guardianship.
  • It offers a solution for situations where the individual is temporarily unavailable or needs assistance with specific matters.


  • It lacks the comprehensive authority needed for specific situations.
  • It relies on the principal’s ability to make sound decisions when designating the agent.
  • There’s a potential for abuse or misuse by the agent.


Understanding the differences between guardianship and power of attorney is crucial in times of uncertainty and vulnerability. These legal arrangements serve distinct purposes, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. 

Whether it’s ensuring the well-being of aging parents or planning for potential future scenarios, being well-informed about these legal mechanisms empowers individuals to make the right choices for themselves and their loved ones.

Get in touch with us today to learn more.

Cathy Tabor

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