Conservatorships can be crucial, but dangerous tools

On Behalf of | May 10, 2019 | Conservatorships

Ordinarily, California’s conservatorship law comes up in the context of an elderly person who needs help with financial matters and other important decisions. Over the past decade or so, the most famous example of a conservatorship has been very different.

Pop singer Britney Spears has been under a conservatorship since 2008, after some heavily publicized incidents of strange behavior and questions about her mental health. A court appointed Spears’ father and a lawyer as her conservators to manage her financial affairs. The lawyer recently left his role, leaving Spears’ father as her sole conservator.

The move was highly unusual in many ways. For one thing, while most people under conservatorship are over age 85, Spears was not even 30 years old at the time and had young children. For another, Spears has continued to work. Although she is not the ubiquitous presence she was at the beginning of the millennium, Spears has appeared on television and performed in concert.

Recently, Spears’ mother filed a motion in Los Angeles County Superior Court, asking the court to inform her about conservatorship decisions involving her daughter. The move comes soon after news that Spears’ father is in poor health, and that Spears had checked into a mental health treatment center.

California law presumes that adults can handle their own financial affairs. However, there are adults whose disability or other conditions leave them unable to make important decisions. In these situations, relatives or other concerned parties can ask a court to declare a conservatorship, in which a person is appointed to manage the financial affairs of an impaired person.

A conservatorship can be a crucial way to protect and provide for a vulnerable adult, but it gives the conservator a great deal of power. Generally, a probate court must periodically review a conservatorship to make sure the vulnerable person’s rights are being protected and that the conservator is acting in good faith.

While few people are in a situation anything like that of the Spears family, many Californians face a time when they must request a conservatorship to protect an aging or disabled loved one. A lawyer with experience in probate law can help people to understand their rights, legal options and responsibilities.