If you follow the news (or even if you don’t), you’ve probably heard the term “conservatorship” more in the last year or two than ever before in your life. Both the Britney Spears conservatorship and the Amanda Bynes conservatorship have made global headlines which, inevitably has led to misrepresentation and misunderstanding.
Conservatorship legislation is complex but understanding the basics is crucial. After all, as the aforementioned celebrity cases show, establishing a conservatorship carries enormous weight. Doing so will be among the most consequential decisions you ever make and so clearing away misconceptions is key.
Back to Basics with Britney Spears and Amanda Bynes
Both the Britney Spears conservatorship and the Amanda Bynes conservatorship were created for the purported purpose of protecting each woman’s well-being.
Spears’ conservatorship was established in 2008 after a series of incidents that provoked concern for her mental health. Her conservatorship was split into two parts—one for her estate and financial affairs, the other for her person—though her father was placed in charge of both.
Bynes’ conservatorship came about in 2013 following what the former child actor previously described as a dark period in her life. Her parents were elected as conservators, gaining control of her financial, medical, and personal affairs.
Fans of both celebrities had long expressed concern about both conservatorships. Their concerns were borne of the fear that Spears and Bynes were being exploited by an arrangement supposedly designed to protect them. This attention provoked court challenges of each conservatorship which, in turn, drove extensive press coverage.
Attorneys are always happy to see airtime dedicated to the issues they defend but not when this leads to dangerous misunderstandings. Both Spears’ and Bynes’ cases were eventually terminated but not before delivering the misconception that conservatorships are easy to manipulate and ripe with opportunities for abuse.
Spears’ and Bynes’ cases were complex and their particulars go beyond the present article. Nobody denies the suffering these women faced but it is important to understand that not all conservatorships end in tragedy. A conservatorship can achieve its purpose of protecting the concerned individual but only if designed with thoughtful, rigorous expert guidance.
A conservatorship is simply a legal concept that allows a judge to grant a guardian (or guardians) control over an individual’s estate or person. This means they gain control of their finances and/or their daily life, living arrangements, medical decisions, and more. The conservator (the appointed guardian) must report to the court that appointed them, however. They carry what is referred to as “fiduciary responsibility” which means they can be held accountable if found to have not acted in the ward’s or the person under conservatorship’s best interest.
Accordingly, expert legal counsel is needed to found and maintain a conservatorship. Legal concerns are ongoing the entire time a conservatorship is active and thus an attorney must be involved at every step.