Adult guardianship, conservatorship and other protective arrangements

Learn about what adult guardianship is and some alternatives to guardianship. #3300EN

Please Note:

  • Read this only if you live in the state of Washington.


A person a court appoints to help you make decisions about your health, safety, and self-care.

A person a court appoints to make decisions about your money and property.

This court order appoints a person to help you with specific tasks, like approving a medical treatment or limiting visits by someone who might harm you.

It is a less restrictive alternative to guardianship or conservatorship. Nevertheless, the court process is mostly the same.


It is a written agreement between you and a “supporter” who will help and support you in making decisions about your health care and/or finances.

The court is not involved in these agreements. Read Alternatives to Guardianship: Supported Decision Making Agreements (SDM) to learn more.

The person for whom a guardianship, conservatorship, or protective arrangement is sought.

If someone has filed a court action (a petition) for a guardian or conservator for you, you are the “respondent.”


Guardians and conservators are appointed by a court.

Any interested person can file a petition with the Superior Court asking the judge to decide these things:

  • Can you meet your essential needs for physical health, safety, or self-care?
  • Is a guardian or conservator needed to prevent harm to you?
  • Can your needs be met by a protective arrangement or other alternative to guardianship or conservatorship?

The judge appoints this person to investigate and make a recommendation about guardianship or conservatorship.

The court visitor will interview you and anyone with information about you, including the proposed guardian or conservator and medical providers.

The court will also order a professional evaluation of you by a physician, psychologist, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner. The court visitor files a written report and recommendation with the court.


Potential Issues

You can fight (oppose) the petition. You have the right to have a lawyer help you.

If you cannot afford a lawyer, the court will appoint one for you at public expense.

You can ask the court visitor about getting a lawyer, or you can write the judge over your case a letter asking for a lawyer.

Maybe. You usually don’t need a guardianship if you have a power of attorney form.

However, if your power of attorney form does not cover certain decisions, or some other problem comes up, you might need to have a guardian or conservator appointed for you.   


A guardian or conservator of an adult must be at least 21 years old.

They must not have been convicted of a crime involving dishonesty, neglect, or abuse. There might be other reasons the court finds a person cannot be a guardian or conservator. 


Yes. Your guardian and conservator can be the same person or different people.

They must act in your best interest and make decisions that benefit you.

They must also file plans and reports with the court regularly to keep the court informed about how they are doing their job.


Yes. A guardian may not decide to place you in a nursing home against your will.

A guardian has to get a court order to have you committed to a psychiatric hospital or consent to certain mental health treatments involving restraint or electric shock.


Yes. You can ask the court to change the guardianship or conservatorship (for example, replace the guardian with someone else, or change the kinds of decisions they can make) or to end the guardianship or conservatorship because you don’t need it anymore.

You can write a letter to the clerk of the court that ordered the guardianship or conservatorship to ask to change or end (terminate) it. Read How to Modify or Terminate a Guardianship by Disability Rights Washington learn more.


You can file a complaint (a “grievance”) with the Certified Professional Guardianship and Conservatorship Board.


Learn More

  • Durable Power of Attorney for Finances: This form lets you choose a trusted person to help you manage your finances and property. Visit Durable Power of Attorney Documents to learn more.
  • Living Trust: This legal arrangement lets you put your money or property in a trust to be managed by a “trustee”.
  • Representative Payee: A trusted person or organization selected by a government agency (such as Social Security Administration or Veterans Administration) to receive and manage your benefits for you.
  • Individual Indian Money (IIM) Accounts: Accounts managed by the federal government for Native American people. If an IIM account is restricted, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) will work with you, a guardian, or your agent appointed under your power of attorney to develop a distribution plan for the funds.  If there is no guardian or power of attorney, BIA can supervise the account as a trustee.
  • Joint Banking or Authorized Signor: A joint banking account lets you hold your money in an account with another person who can help you manage your finances. You should be aware that either joint account holder can take money out without permission of the other. In addition, if one joint account holder has debts, the creditors can come after all the money in the account. An authorized signor is not a joint account holder, but rather someone permitted to manage money in the account.
  • Joint Property Arrangements: This arrangement lets you own property with someone you trust who can help you manage the property.
  • Supported Decision-Making Agreements Read Alternatives to Guardianship: Supported Decision Making Agreements (SDM) to learn more.

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

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Last Review and Update: Feb 28, 2022
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