Britney Spears’ conservatorship has received a lot of ink lately. Yet, much of the public does not know what a conservatorship is or how it differs from a guardianship.
In California, a guardianship protects a minor. Conversely, a conservatorship protects an incapacitated adult, specifically by protecting their estate (money) or by overseeing the decisions they make.
Many adults, like Britney Spears, originally find themselves under a conservatorship through the California Welfare and Institutions Code, section 5150. This section is designed to allow for a temporary conservatorship when a person, through mental health issues (or addiction), is found by mental health care providers to be a “danger to themselves or others,” or is so “gravely disabled” (ie- out of touch with reality) that they cannot care for their own basic needs. When the temporary conservatorship period ends, the conservatee (the person under the conservatorship) is entitled to hearing to determine if they still need the protections of a conservatorship.
Some of the responsibilities of a conservator are as follows:
- You arrange for the conservatee’s care and protection.
- You decide where the conservatee will live.
- You make arrangements for the conservatee’s healthcare, meals, clothing, personal care, housekeeping, transportation, and recreation.
Britney Spears has been under a conservatorship since 2008 when “Jamie Spears [Britney’s father] was granted the conservatorship after Britney purportedly struggled with mental health issues and was hospitalized. After Britney was released, a Los Angeles court made the conservatorship permanent, giving her father and another co-conservator power over her finances and medical decisions.”
Conservatorships are usually brought under the California Probate Code. They can allow a guardian to take over the finances of the conservatee (conservatorship over the estate) or the personal decisions (health care, marriage, etc.) of the conservatee (conservatorship over the person).
In California a conservatorship is not to be put in place unless it is the “least restrictive alternative needed for the protection of the conservatee.” Also, although the
conservatee has a lawyer, if there is a conservatorship, they do not get to pick their own lawyer.
The California court is to review the conservatorship annually (or every two years depending on the county) to determine if it still needs to be in place or if the restrictions can be lowered.
Conservatorships are a good tool for elderly people living with dementia, for the mentally ill, or for any other adult who cannot handle their own finances and/or other personal decisions. They can also become abusive if they are too broad or stay in place for too long. In Britney’s case, she argues that her conservatorship is abusive and that “I don’t think I can live a full life.” She also added, “I feel ganged up on, I feel bullied and I feel alone.”
It is always sad when a young person like Britney (39 years old) has need of a conservatorship. Does that need still exist? That will be for a judge to determine. If there is one silver lining in the recent media coverage of Britney Spears’ conservatorship, it’s that the public is learning more about conservatorship as an option for those who have incapacitated adult family members.