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What Does It Mean to Be an Adult’s Legal Guardian?

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To say there’s intense international interest over how pop star Britney Spears lost control of her estimated net worth of $60 million, as well as most of her personal and medical decisions, would be a gross understatement.

The conservatorship battle over Britney Spears’ life and money is not typical of most guardianship and petitions brought by attorneys for families when a loved one is incapacitated and can’t care for themselves or make informed decisions. In most cases, by the time they reach out to an estate planning attorney for help, things have usually taken a turn for the worse.

According to the recent article, “Why the sensational Britney Spears case is atypical of most conservatorships” from Deseret News, families often wait until there is a crisis to start pursuing conservatorship. Starting the process before an emergency would be better, but it is difficult, as the family must face a harsh reality: their loved one has lost the ability to maintain a normal life.

Family members may have Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia but have not been formally diagnosed.

Elder financial abuse is also part of the conservatorship problem. If the family is involved in the person’s finances, they may see large checks being written to strangers or spending that doesn’t follow the person’s behavior.

In some states, a guardian controls the person’s living arrangements and medical care, while the conservator controls the person’s finances. Each state has its own laws, so families need to work with attorneys where their loved one resides.

In the Spears case, the court had to see evidence of incapacity, which seems odd for a person who has spent the last 13 years performing and earning millions. However, it is possible for a person to be incapacitated, while still maintaining some degree of functionality.

If Spears’ counsel can demonstrate that she has capacity to manage her own life, health and finances, and if it finds the reasons she needed conservatorship 13 years ago no longer exist, then it is possible the conservatorship will terminate. She will be able to run her life, manage her career and make financial decisions as she sees fit. Those decisions may not be what her father would wish, and there is certainly room for her to make mistakes, just as any other celebrity multimillionaire does.

The LA Superior Court judge suspended Jamie Spears as conservator, appointing a CPA as a temporary conservator until the next court hearing, scheduled for mid-November.

A protected person or an interested party has the legal right to petition a court to terminate a guardianship, if they believe the person is capable of managing their own affairs. Some states have laws serving as a “Bill of Rights” for protected persons, which outline the legal rights individuals have, even when they are under the care of a conservator or guardian.

The best source for information on conservatorship or guardianship is not the entertainment headlines, but from a local estate planning attorney who is familiar with the laws of your state and how this process works for regular people who are sincerely trying to help their family members.

Reference: Deseret News (Sep. 30, 2021) “Why the sensational Britney Spears case is atypical of most conservatorships”

Suggested Key Terms: Conservatorships, Guardianship, Petitions, Estate Planning Attorney, Incapacitated, Petition, Capacity, Protected Person, Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia, Elder Financial Abuse