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Conservatorship Gone Wrong

When a judge appoints a person to oversee another person’s finances and, basically, run that person’s life due to incapacitation, it is because he or she has proven they can no longer take care of him or herself, cannot make cogent financial decisions anymore or cannot meet their ongoing financial obligations.

Pop singer Britney Spears is suffering through this and speaking out in the midst of a dramatic appeal to the court as a fight for freedom from Jamie Spears, her father.

“I did it because of my pride and I was embarrassed to share what happened to me,” she said, later adding, “Believe it or not pretending that I’m ok has actually helped,” she said.

In November 2020, a judge granted Ms. Spears’ wish to appoint an outside financial group, Bessemer Trust, as co-conservator. However, she requested the court to remove her father and allow Bessemer Trust to become the sole conservator of her estate — something Jamie and his legal team is fighting, CBS News reported.

It’s More Than Just Money

Conservatorship should be considered the most restrictive form of court intervention, as it is costly and strips people of their individual rights. Here are troubling excerpts from a California family’s plight just a few years ago:

“Given the contentious nature of our family, we weren’t given any options to decide on a particular conservator.”

“We showed up to court and the judge-appointed conservator was there, ready to take over. His fees would be paid by the estate that he now controlled.”

“It was all very confusing. My sisters and I were operating more or less in the dark.”

“Prior to this conservatorship assignment, I discovered, the man who became my mother’s conservator was listed on a website for guardianship abuse. His victims shared personal warnings and tragic stories.”

Sad? Scary? Inhumane? What?

Conservatorship isn’t always everyone’s worst nightmare. For many people, and for many years, it is a much needed and successful appointment in assisting the elderly to live out their lives while also being cared for financially. That is how it is supposed to work.

Remember that conservatorship is legally defined as a court case to help someone who cannot care for him or herself or manage their own finances.

Many people may not remember what brought Jamie Spears to become the controller of his daughter’s career and finances to conservatorship. It started in 2008, after Ms. Spear’s public breakdown that year, following a year of erratic behavior when she shaved her head and attacked a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella.

She was put under a “5150 hold” in a psychiatric hospital for a mental health evaluation—a mental breakdown.

The New York Times reported “Her father and others involved in the conservatorship maintained that it was a ‘smooth-running machine’ that had rescued her from a low point and benefited Ms. Spears and that she could move to end it whenever she wanted.”

However, Ms. Spears said she had expressed serious opposition “earlier and more often than had been known.” She articulated to others that conservatorship has become “an oppressive and controlling tool against her,” a court investigator wrote in a 2016 report.

What If It Was Someone You Love?

According to the National Association to Stop Guardianship Abuse (NASGA): “The purpose of both guardianship and conservatorship is to guard and serve.”

The title “fiduciary” is interchangeable with “guardian” or “conservator.” The group reminds family members: “If you are in litigation, or about to enter litigation, the first thing to do is read and devour the guardianship and conservatorship laws of your state.”

“You may think it’s your attorney’s job to know, advise, and take care of you. After all, that’s what you’re paying dearly for. Count on you instead,” NASGA cautions.

The Con Game: A Failure of Trust, written by T.S. Laham, a business professor at Diablo Valley College in the San Francisco Bay Area, is all about the silent elder abuse in America. Laham writes that America’s guardianship system is “an open invitation to potential abuse.”

That’s not true in all cases, obviously, but one of the more talked-about cases was with actor Mickey Rooney. Regardless of the verdict, the particulars in the case were unsettling.

What the younger Britney Spears is experiencing today can be frightfully similar to what the older Britney Spears might experience later on had this case not risen to the surface. “Learn the warning signs and symptoms of conservator and guardian abuse,” NASGA says.

If you or someone you know needs help or guidance in this area, contact us here at Hefren-Tillotson today. Our professional partners can be of valuable service to you or someone you know. Just let us know. We would happy to help.

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