Conservators are put in place through court authority to manage the affairs of those who are no longer capable of making their own decisions about health care or finances. While most people’s lifestyles and fortunes are decidedly different from Ms. Spear’s, the problems she has and continues to experience are a cautionary tale for all of us who do not name a durable power of attorney for healthcare and financial matters. In the absence of these legal documents reflecting your wishes should you become incapacitated, family members may petition a court to appoint a conservator to manage your well-being. Yet, in Britney Spear’s case, some who are under the direction of a conservatorship have no desire to be there.
What Does Conservatorship Determine?
Generally, conservatorships guide the life decisions of those in comas, suffer advanced forms of dementia, or are experiencing other serious injuries or illnesses. A “conservator of the estate” guides financial matters while a “conservator of the person” is in charge of personal and medical decisions. In the case of Ms. Spears, two people (her father and her lawyer, who has since resigned) are acting as conservators, and financial institutions and other attorneys have involvement. One person may be in charge of both estate and personal/medical conservatorships in less complex circumstances. Both types of conservators follow court supervision and are held accountable to that court.
This court supervision acts as a power safeguard preventing conservators from mismanaging property or otherwise taking advantage of those in a conservatorship. Periodic detailing of conservator actions through reports to the court provides this oversight. Frequently, courts will require the conservator to seek permission before making major decisions such as terminating life-support or requiring medications (in the case of medical and personal conservatorships), or selling real estate or other property (in the case of a financial conservator). Additionally, a financial conservator must often post a bond as an insurance policy protecting the conservatee’s estate from mismanagement.
What Issues can Arise with Conservatorship?
Britney Spears states that her conservators are unnecessary. They refuse her permission to marry and have more children while financially forcing her to pay exorbitant conservatorship and legal fees and take psychiatric medications she does not want to take. She also states that she was required to use a court-appointed attorney who did not communicate how to end her conservatorship or hire an attorney she believes has her best interest at heart.
Some conservatorships work remarkably well because the conservator is competent and trustworthy. Yet conservatorships are most often expensive and can be avoided by adequately preparing durable powers of attorney before a physical or mental health crisis occurs. These legal documents provide a template for decision-making based on your wishes by the designated power of attorney(s). In the absence of these documents, the court will most often appoint a conservator who is a relative that is available to serve, such as a spouse or adult child.
Sometimes this situation leads to great heartache when an estranged relative, like Britney Spears father Jamie, is given the reins as conservator and will not let go. Given that Ms. Spears has a multi-million dollar estate, the court believes additional professionals acting on Britney’s behalf through the conservatorship are suitable. Ms. Spears contends that after a thirteen-year conservatorship, the conservatorship should be dissolved as she is stable, can work, and provide for her family.
A conservator will act until the court issues an order ending this responsibility which usually follows:
- The conservatee’s death
- The conservatee no longer requires this level of assistance
- In the case of a financial conservatorship, the assets are all spent
- The conservator can no longer handle the responsibilities or resigns
- The court removes the conservatorship due to a successful legal challenge by the conservatee
The process is simple to avoid an unwanted conservatorship. Meet with an elder law attorney to draft your durable power of attorney documents to reflect your wishes should unforeseen physical or mental health illness befall you. Your chosen representatives will be those you trust to exercise your will if you are unable, and you will have peace of mind knowing that future decisions will reflect your wishes.