A conservatorship, which is also referred to as guardianship in some states, occurs when a court appoints a person to manage an incapacitated or incompetent individual’s finances and other life decisions. This can include decisions such as buying/selling real estate, taking out money from the bank, and even taking certain medications. The appointed person is typically a family member, who ideally has the debilitated individual’s best interests in mind. This type of court order is used when an individual is physically or mentally disabled to the extent that he/she is unable to make objectively rational decisions. To place someone under a conservatorship, a verified medical professional, such as a physiatrist, must diagnose an individual with some form of a mentally debilitating condition. Then, it is the role of the courts to review the evidence and make a decision on whether to place someone under a conservatorship or not. A common example of conservatorship is when an elderly individual develops dementia or Alzheimer’s and because of that severe cognitive impairment is unable to manage their assets.
With the recent news surrounding Britney Spears’s fight to end her own conservatorship against her father, legal issues involving Trust & Estates have risen to the forefront of pop culture. How does an individual, like Britney Spears, end a conservatorship? This process is far more time-consuming and difficult than one would assume as the burden falls on the incapacitated individual (conservatee) to prove to the court that the appointed individual (conservator) is no longer needed. For instance, an individual may argue that because of medical care or other changed circumstances they are now able to make decisions for themselves. However, this is often challenging to prove in court because of the surplus of evidence required.
To best avoid a conservatorship, individuals should seek counsel from a Trusts and Estates lawyer to create durable powers of attorney and/or a trust. By creating these legal documents, an individual will have the opportunity to pick someone of their own choice to make financial and medical decisions, if it ever becomes necessary. An individual can appoint someone that they trust deeply and believe will execute their wishes to the fullest.