ARTICLE: Power of Attorney vs. Guardianship: What’s the Difference?

Power of Attorney vs. Guardianship: What’s the Difference?

Power of Attorney (POA) and Guardianship are legal mechanisms designed to address situations where an individual may be unable to make decisions on their own. However, they serve different purposes and involve distinct legal processes. Here’s an overview of the differences between POA and Guardianship:

Power of Attorney (POA)

Definition: A Power of Attorney is a legal document that grants authority to another person (the agent or attorney-in-fact) to make decisions on behalf of the individual creating the POA (the principal).

Voluntary: The key distinction is that a POA is voluntarily created by the individual while they have the mental capacity to make decisions. It allows the agent to act on the principal’s behalf in various matters, such as financial, legal, or healthcare decisions.

Flexibility: POAs can be general, granting broad decision-making authority, or specific, focusing on particular areas. They can also be durable, meaning they remain in effect even if the principal becomes incapacitated.


Definition: Guardianship, on the other hand, is a legal process where a court appoints an individual (the guardian) to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person (the ward).

Involuntary: Unlike a POA, guardianship is typically involuntary and is sought when an individual is deemed incapacitated and unable to make decisions independently.

Court Involvement: The establishment of guardianship involves a court proceeding where evidence of incapacity is presented, and the court determines whether a guardian should be appointed. This process can be time-consuming and may involve ongoing court oversight.

Key Differences

Initiation: POA is initiated by the individual while they have capacity, whereas guardianship is initiated by someone (often a concerned family member or friend) petitioning the court.

Flexibility: POA offers more flexibility and is often preferred as it allows individuals to choose who will make decisions for them, define the scope of authority, and avoid court involvement.

Court Oversight: Guardianship involves ongoing court oversight to ensure the guardian is acting in the best interest of the ward. POAs generally do not require court monitoring.

If you find yourself contemplating these legal mechanisms or are uncertain about which option best suits your needs, consider seeking guidance from an experienced estate planning attorney. We can provide personalized advice, assess your unique situation, and help you make informed decisions that align with your preferences. Call Roth Elder Law, PLLC at 607-962-6162 or complete this intake form and we will be in touch to schedule a meeting.

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