Singing Star's Troubles Shed National Light on Conservatorships

Singing Star's Troubles Shed National Light on Conservatorships

by Monica Sanders, December 2009

Though Britney Spears has been released from UCLA's psychiatric ward, the fight over her estate, her children and her ability to be responsible for herself continues. Spears' parents had her placed in the hospital for mental care using a conservatorship order they say is being disregarded. A court representative said there was "no just cause" to keep her in the hospital any longer. The hospital released her on February 6th against the wishes of her parents and the physician treating her.

Spears' parents were temporarily able to place her in treatment with an order which also took control of her estate away from her and her manager. Recently, Spears' father has tried to fire her manager after accusing him of violating a court order.

How Conservatorships Work

The Spears saga has drawn attention to conservatorships, how they work and how they could be used to help a child or family member in need of intervention. Families of people who have been seriously injured or have drug and/or mental health problems typically seek this type of order.

A conservatorship is a legal tool that allows family members or a guardian to take responsibility for the assets and finances of a person deemed incapable of making decisions for themselves. The person seeking to have a conservatorship can petition the court. He or she must then sign sworn affidavits, medical statements and other hard proof that the person against whom it will be granted is truly incapacitated. In some cases, a brief trial is held to determine capacity.

Depending upon the state in which a person seeks a conservatorship, there may be other requirements. For example, some states require the person seeking financial control to post a bond. It may not be possible to get a conservatorship if the person believed to be incapacitated has made certain estate planning moves - such as creating a living trust or including a general power of attorney appointing a specific person to handle their affairs.

The conservator is responsible for keeping track of all account expenditures on the person's behalf. Once the person is able to participate in decision-making, the conservator is required to allow them to do so. The court supervises the entire process to make sure the incapacitated person's estate is being handled properly and there is no misappropriation. The court also has the ability to terminate the conservatorship when it considers it no longer necessary.

A Tool for Helping Troubled Relatives?

With Spears' odd behavior being well-documented in the press as financial determinations related to her ex-husband and custody of her children still being made; her parents case for wanted to protect her assets was strengthened.

Hers is not the first case to place the concept of conservatorships in media spotlight. Family members whose relatives had joined Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church sought conservatorships.

They used the orders to prevent their relatives from turning over their entire estates to the church and to help convince them to leave the organization, which many view as a cult. The ACLU filed suit, arguing that conservatorship violated freedom of association principles. The orders were allowed. However, the case did lead to the requirement for expert medical testimony in conservatorship cases.

Spears' parents maintain they obtained all the necessary evidence and feel the court acted improperly in allowing her release. With the order set to expire soon and new photos of Spears appearing online almost daily, there could be another round of court battles in the pop star's future.