For the last several weeks it seems as though the world has been captivated by the Britney Spears Conservatorship case. The #FreeBritney movement has taken social media by storm and we won’t pretend it hasn’t also captured our attention! As lawyers who have worked with clients on both sides of guardianships*, how could we not be interested in this high-profile and unusual case?
*Note: in Maryland, conservatorships are known as guardianships. In a lot of ways, they are very similar, though state and local laws as well as the specifics of a case will affect outcomes. We’ll get into that in a bit…
The facts surrounding Ms. Spears’ case are certainly unusual. In most cases, conservatorships are granted for older individuals who are severely mentally incapacitated and unable to make decisions in many areas of their lives, or for minors whose parents are unfit or otherwise absent from their life. However, according to records and Ms. Spears’ own testimony, she is able to work, earn money and live on her own and she’s quite successful at it. Take her wildly popular Las Vegas residency show, which ran for four years and grossed a reported $138 million across nearly 250 shows as an example. So why then has she been under a conservatorship controlled largely by her father since 2008?
The catalyst, as reported by the media, stems from a mental health crisis Ms. Spears suffered publicly between 2007 and 2008. It was determined at the time that she was unfit to make financial or even personal decisions and Ms. Spears’ father, Jamie Spears, became the conservator of her affairs, making Ms. Spears his conservatee. Mr. Spears not only controlled Ms. Spears’ finances, but had final say in her living conditions, business decisions, and even (as Ms. Spears testified) decisions about her body. She argued that the guardianship was too controlling and unnecessarily so given her success and ability to work, earn money and employ people and petitioned the court to terminate the guardianship immediately, a request the Judge overseeing her case has since denied.
For many following the #FreeBritney saga, the concept of conservatorships is a foreign one. They sound extremely restrictive and radical, and they certainly can be (as in Ms. Spears’ case). But what exactly is a conservatorship? How does it work and why are they so restrictive? Is it possible to terminate a guardianship once one is established? Read on to find out…
Is it a Conservatorship or a Guardianship?
Conservatorships (as they are known in California) are known as guardianships here in Maryland. Both serve the same purpose and have a lot of the same function; they just have a different label. Of course, local and state laws have an impact on the terms of the guardianship/conservatorship. Generally, though, in Maryland a guardianship is a court process that authorizes a person to take over the affairs of a minor or an adult who is unable to manage them on his or her own. Because a guardianship effectively strips a person of his or her ability to make decisions for themselves, courts do not take guardianship lightly. Guardianship will only be granted if something less restrictive, like a Power of Attorney, is no longer a viable option.
To learn more about Guardianships, including their different types, check out our blog post: “What is the Difference between a Power of Attorney and a Guardianship?”
Can you end a Guardianship?
Ending a guardianship is possible, but can be tricky. Because it is a process overseen by the court, you cannot just end it. You must file a petition to the court to receive an order of termination. The minor/disabled person, his/her personal representative, the guardian or any other interested party can file a petition to terminate the guardianship. Courts grant terminations for a number of reasons including the death of the minor/disabled person, if the disabled person is able to prove they have recovered from whatever ailment incapacitated them and warranted the guardianship in the first place, or (in the case of a minor) if they are now old enough to manage their own affairs.
If you are seeking to terminate a guardianship, having the guidance of a skilled attorney can certainly be helpful. An attorney can assist you with filing all the necessary paperwork, getting the petition filed and the proceedings underway and can represent you at court hearings if needed.
The Benefit of Guardianships
The #FreeBritney movement has certainly highlighted a lot of flaws in the guardianship process. Although, there have been a number of significant reforms made in the last few decades, there is still a ways to go. That being said, guardianships do have merits. They protect our most vulnerable individuals: those who are too old, too young, sick or disabled. A guardianship can protect the finances, medical decisions and quality of life of a person who is otherwise incapable of managing them on his or her own.
The Maryland courts have created Guardianship Orientation and Training Programs for anyone who has recently been appointed a guardian. These programs educate guardians on their roles, duties, and responsibilities as well as a number of resources to guide them along the way. If you were recently appointed as a guardian, we encourage you to check this site out: Maryland Guardianship Site.
We can help!
Maybe we can’t help #FreeBritney, but we can help YOU! If you are looking to be appointed a guardian, were recently appointed as a guardian or need help terminating a guardianship, please give us a call! Our skilled, knowledgeable and compassionate attorneys at Ferrante, Dill & Hisle, LLC can help you more smoothly navigate this process, file every necessary piece of paperwork and answer every question you have. Call us today: (410) 535-6100 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.