In a constantly evolving courtroom and personal, family drama, 39-year-old Britney Spears is in the midst of a battle over control of her $60+ million-dollar fortune. The pop star is enmeshed within a conservatorship legally awarded to her father and other guardians by the California court system.
This 13-year long conservatorship has ceded Britney’s self-control of her economic, personal, and legal decision-making power. Called a guardianship in most states, this arrangement is for the benefit of individuals who cannot take care of themselves, such as people who have dementia, profound disabilities, or catastrophic mental illness and who need help with personal care or management of their finances due to lack of capacity. Estate planning attorney Rebecca Doane of Doane & Doane says:
“In these cases, the need for the conservatorship is obvious, as the ward has no orientation as to time, person and place. It becomes a lot trickier when the person is oriented and understands what is going on but has mental health issues or substance abuse issues.”
Doane advises that there are less restrictive alternatives to a conservatorship. In all 50 states, you can set up a trust – either revocable and irrevocable – giving an independent trustee the ability to protect and manage one’s finances.
“If Ms. Spears instead had this in place, she potentially would have the ability to select, remove and replace those she wished to manage her finances. Additionally, Ms. Spears could have selected a person to be her health care surrogate and make decisions regarding her personal care as well.”
Prior to the establishment of a permanent conservatorship, less restrictive alternatives should always be considered. It is a very delicate balance, and one that is easy to get wrong, when weighing the “best interests of the ward” vs. allowing the ward to have the dignity of risk. Rebecca Doane adds:
“The dignity of risk means the freedom we have to make mistakes. Either way, with the conservatorship or without the conservatorship, there is a tragedy for this poor woman. Not even an amazingly gifted, loved and famous pop star can escape the sorrows and pain of life. A conservatorship is certainly not a silver bullet for that.”
If you have questions about trust options, a conservatorship or guardianship for a loved one, the expertise and guidance of a qualified estate planning attorney will help you determine the best options for your family.
Contact Doane & Doane. They will be there for you every step of the way.