Glossary of Terms

Advance Planning: Advance planning documents can help adults clarify their wishes about their future by allowing them to document informed decisions about their health care and financial arrangements before they are no capable of making decisions of this kind.  Advance planning documents include: living wills, living trusts, wills, and power of attorney for health care or finances.

Alleged Incapacitated Person (AIP) - also called Client, Consumer, Ward: An alleged incapacitated person (AIP) is the adult for whom guardianship has been proposed. The alleged incapacitated person may also be called the proposed ward (in guardianship proceedings) or proposed “protected person” (in conservatorship proceedings).

Alternatives to Guardianship: An alternative to guardianship is any legal tool, social service, natural support, community resource, or government program that does not lead to FULL guardianship.  Sometimes a single alternative may provide a person with the care, protection, and support she needs.  Usually though, a combination of alternatives is needed to take care of a person’s needs.

Care Coordinators: A Care Coordinator is any person who is a caseworker in a hospital, nursing home, state facility, school, private organization, community-based organization (CBO), or non-profit organization (NPO).

Community Services: Community services include a wide range of free and paid programs and supports that are available in an adult’s town or region.  Examples of community services include “Meals on Wheels” and “Homemakers” programs.

Conservator: A conservator is an individual or organization appointed by the court to protect and manage the finances and property of a person (called the “protected person”) in need of protection from exploitation or mismanagement of his/her funds.  Like a guardian, a conservator is usually appointed for the long term. 

Conservatorship: Under conservatorship, a conservator is appointed by the court to protect and manage the finances and property of a person (called the “protected person”) in need of protection from exploitation or mismanagement of his/her funds.  A conservator is usually appointed for the long term.

Court Visitor: A court visitor is a person appointed by the probate court who represents the eyes, ears, and common sense of the court.  The visitor interviews the prospective guardian and/or conservator and assesses the alleged incapacitated’s current and proposed living arrangements.  The visitor’s report to the court provides the court with a better opportunity to make an appropriate judgment on behalf of the alleged incapacitated person.

Emergency Contact: An emergency contact is a person, usually a close family member or friend, who is notified in the event that an adult is involved in an emergency situation. While an emergency contact may be one of the first persons notified in the event of an emergency, the emergency contact does not have the power to make decisions about the adult’s life and well-being.

Family Guardian: A family guardian is a person who is appointed as guardian for an adult to whom he or she is related by blood or marriage. In most cases when there is a willing and able family member who has not conflict with the prospective ward, the court prefers to appoint the family member as guardian.

Full Guardianship: Under full guardianship, a guardian has control over most areas of an adult’s life. Full guardianship is the most restrictive form of guardianship and should only be considered after other less restrictive options have been explored and ruled out.

Guardian (also see: Guardianship, Family Guardian, Full Guardianship, Limited Guardianship, Public vs. Private Guardianship, Temporary Guardianship): A guardian is a person appointed by the court to make decisions on behalf of an adult who cannot make decisions for themselves. A guardian is appointed if the court finds an adult is unable to make certain decisions independently. Guardianship is considered a long term appointment.

Guardianship (also see: Family Guardian, Full Guardianship, Limited Guardianship, Public vs. Private Guardianship, Temporary Guardianship): Guardianship is a legal approach to managing the personal, medical, and financial affairs of adults who cannot make decisions for themselves.

Guardian Ad Litem (GAL): A guardian ad litem (GAL) is not the same as a guardian. A guardian ad litem is a person appointed by the court to protect the rights of a person in a specific legal case when that person is unable to communicate with the court or with his or her attorney.

Healthcare Directive (also called: Living Will, Health care declaration, Health care advance directive): A Healthcare Directive is a legal document that contains the health care instructions of someone who may no longer be able to make and communicate his or her own health care decisions.

Incapacitated Person: A person who is determined to be incapacitated lacks sufficient understanding to make and communicate responsible decisions about his or her person or property due to impairment(s) caused by mental or physical illness or disability or chronic substance abuse.

Joint Checking Accounts: Banks offer a variety of services which can provide tools to help manage a person’s funds. Joint checking accounts can provide a requirement of two signatures or simply for a second signer when the adult is ill and unable to sign checks.

Least Restrictive Alternative: The least restrictive alternative refers to the environment, program, or course of action which places as few limits as possible on the person’s rights and personal freedoms while, at the same time, meeting the person’s care and support needs.

Limited Guardianship: Under a limited guardianship, the court makes an order that gives the guardian power to make decisions in a certain area of an adult’s life (such as money management or major health care decisions). The adult keeps the right to make all other life decisions.

Mediation: Mediation is a process in which an unbiased person works with a group of individuals to help resolve a dispute through voluntary agreement.

Money Management Programs: Money management programs offer assistance to people who have problems managing their financial affairs. In a money management program, no authority is transferred, and the person who is the client of the program continues to make financial decisions.

Natural Supports: Natural supports include unpaid individuals, such as family members or friends, who provide informal support in a person’s life.

Petitioner: The petitioner is the interested party, such as a family member, care coordinator, home health nurse, or friend, who begins the process of filing for guardianship by filing a petition with the probate court.

Power of Attorney: A power of attorney is a written, witnessed legal document between two people that authorizes one person to act for or represent the other, usually in financial matters or when health care decisions are being made. The person granting the power must be fully capable of making decisions in his or her own best interest at the time the document is signed.

Probate Court: A Probate Court is a body of government made up of one or more judges. When a petition for guardianship or conservatorship is filed, the Probate Court decides if an adult is incapacitated. The Probate Court is responsible for appointing a guardian or conservator if necessary. The Probate Court may also remove a guardian and appoint a new one or declare that the protected adult no longer needs a guardian.

Public Guardianship: A public guardianship means an agency of the state government is the guardian. A public guardian will be appointed only if there is no private individual who is both willing and able to assume the responsibilities of a guardian. The Office of Adults with Cognitive and Physical Disability Services may act as the public guardian for adults with developmental disabilities or autism. The Office of Elder Services may act as a public guardian for all other adults.

Representative Payeeship (also called: a fiduciary): If a person’s source of income is from Social Security Disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a representative payeeship may be arranged with the Social Security Administration. A representative payee is A person who has a mental or physical disability and gets Social Security, SSI benefits, Railroad Retirement, Black Lung, or VA benefits, may have a “representative payee” receive these benefits and use the funds to pay the person’s bills.

Special Needs Trust: Special needs trusts are established for the benefit of a disabled person, usually a person under the age of 65. A special needs or “Medicaid qualifying” trust does not jeopardize a person’s SSI and Medicaid benefits and allows an adult to purchase things that are not reimbursed by Medicaid.

Statement of Consent: A statement of consent is a document that may, if the adult approves, be signed by an adult and his or her family member(s). The document is then placed in both the person’s case file and person-centered plan to allow family members to continue participating in planning team meetings.

Temporary Guardianship (also called: Emergency Guardianship, Temporary Emergency Guardianship): A temporary guardian may be appointed by the court in emergencies when a person has no guardian or when the already appointed guardian is not effectively performing his/her duties and immediate action is necessary on behalf of the protected adult.

Termination of Guardianship (also called: Termination, Removal): A termination of the guardianship may occur if the probate court decides to remove a guardian and appoint a new one (this is called removal) or declare that the ward, or protected adult, no longer needs a guardian (this is called termination).

Trust: A trust is a legal document that provides instructions about how a person wants to allocate their funds and property. A trust appoints a person, often referred to as the trustee, to follow these instructions and manage an adult’s financial affairs.

Ward: (also called: Client, Consumer, Protected Individual): The ward is the person for whom a guardian has been appointed. Sometimes the ward is referred to as the protected individual.


  • “Legal & Financial Planning for People with Alzheimer’s Disease”; Tips from the National Institute on Aging, NIA, NIH, DHHS
  • Maine’s DD Guardianship Website - “Guardianship Questions & Answers for Families and Friends of Adults with Disabilities.”  
  • Maine’s Draft Guardianship Brochure
  • National Guardianship Association:
  • Office of Elder Services – Adult Guardianship & Conservatorship – Questions and Answers;
  • Quinn, Mary Joy. Guardianships of Adults.  Springer Publishing Company. 2005.
  • Vermont’s Guardian Handbook
  • Tim Fadgen’s write-up on Guardianship on the DRC website: