Deciding how much help they need with finances

Conservatorship is only for  people who: cannot manage their own finances, or have income from sources other than government benefits (for government benefits, a representative payee will take on this role.) A conservator, appointed by the Court, makes decisions about the person with disabilities

Click this box to learn more:


Conservatorship is like guardianship, but only involves decisions about finances.

(Guardianship can include decisions about healthcare and personal life as well.)

  • A person called a conservator is appointed just to manage money for your family member. This includes income and assets.

  • This option involves the Court. It's more complicated and expensive than a durable power of attorney (DPA).

  • Some families like this option because they feel more comfortable having the Court protect their family member's money.

It can be complicated to apply for conservatorship and fulfill the responsibilities. We will walk you through it step-by-step.


Sources: Fletcher Tilton Attorneys at Law (2011), Jackins (2010)

If you think that conservatorship may be the best option for your family member, the next step is to think about how much help they will need.

There are 2 main types in Massachusetts:

Under full conservatorship, the conservator makes all the financial decisions for your family member with disabilities. Under limited conservatorship, the conservator makes certain financial decisions for your family member, but not all of them.

State law prefers limited (over full) conservatorship in order to keep the most independence for the person with a disability.


Learn how they're different by clicking the box below:

Limited conservatorship

  • This covers only specific financial areas where your family member needs someone to make decisions for them.

  • In all other areas, they could make their own decisions.

  • For example, a limited conservator might be in charge of making investments, while your family member continues to manage their own daily expenses.

  • The court prefers limited conservatorship whenever possible, in order to protect the person's rights and freedoms.

Full conservatorship

  • A full (or general) conservator would control all of your family member's money, and handle all financial decisions.

  • The Court will only appoint a full conservator if proven necessary.


Note: The conservator does not usually manage funds from either SSI or SSDI. This money must be be managed by a representative payee. See the Exceptional Lives SSI Guide for more information.


Source: MA Guardianship Association

What you can do:

  1. Talk about these options with your family member as much as possible. Also talk to a lawyer and other helpful people like teachers, case managers, or doctors. Ask what they think is best.

  2. Decide if your family member needs help with all financial decisions (full conservatorship) or only certain ones (limited conservatorship).

  3. Consider getting help from a lawyer or special needs financial planner.

Sources: Jackins (2010)