You may have noticed that Britney Spears’ name has been back in the news over the last few months. While early-aughts culture is certainly experiencing a resurgence in popularity, Britney Spears is making news due to a legal dispute rather than any fashion faux-pas.
If you haven’t followed the story, here’s a quick summary: Spears’ music career was interrupted by struggles with her mental health. You might remember paparazzi photos of her shaving her head and attacking a car with an umbrella. In 2008, a judge granted Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, a conservatorship over his daughter. Since 2019, Spears has been trying to revoke the conservatorship, with the conflict boiling over in 2021.
Why do people care? It’s unusual since conservatorship is not commonly used for young people who seem healthy. It’s one of several legal options to take away rights from someone who’s mentally incapacitated. That’s as serious as it sounds, and it’s a high bar to clear: A judge must agree that the evidence of mental challenge presented in court prevents the person from being able to care for themselves.
Is it the same as power of attorney (‘POA’)? Conservatorship and POA both grant another person the legal authority to make decisions on your behalf. However, you have to be of sound mind to name a POA yourself, and while you are of sound mind, you can assign the POA to whomever you wish. As a result, naming someone, your POA rarely involves the courts; it can often be accomplished with some boilerplate legal forms and a notary. A conservatorship is far more difficult. A judge appoints a conservator if they see sufficient evidence that the person is incapacitated.
Do you need to worry about this? If you’re concerned about diminished mental capacity in the future, then it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your loved ones now. We can certainly help facilitate the conversation, but the choice of whom to appoint is a decision best made by you and your loved ones when you’re still able to make good decisions for yourself. Given the high burden of proof, conservatorships are rare, and as you can see from Spears’ case, it often drives families apart. For these reasons, POAs are a far more common and typically less problematic solution.
Britney Spears’ efforts to end the conservatorship have been an ongoing battle. If anything, it’s proof of how seriously the courts take granting a conservatorship and how equally high the burden of proof is to end one once established. But all of it can be avoided with a bit of preparation, an honest discussion of your wishes, and a POA who will respect them.
Please schedule some time with our office today if you’d like to review your estate documents. We’re always here to help!