Elder law attorneys are fully aware that singer Britney Spears was in the news again recently. But not because she released a new song or announced a new Vegas act. Instead, Ms. Spears was asking for changes in the conservatorship first put in place for her protection in 2008. In some states, like Pennsylvania, elder law attorneys refer to conservatorships as guardianships, but the intent is the same. Guardians volunteer or are appointed to manage a minor or incapacitated person’s affairs. Unfortunately, sometimes conservatorships and guardianships can become contentious.
Problems Sometimes Arise with the Guardian or the Conservator
In Britney Spears’ case, her father has served as conservator almost continuously since 2008. Accusations have been made that Ms. Spears’ father, James Spears, mismanaged his daughter’s estate and paid himself well while doing it.
At least one financial institution has served as a co-conservator. Ms. Spears also has a personal conservator, Jodi Montgomery, who handles medical treatment and personal care.
Although most people who serve truly care about their wards, there is potential for abuse and mismanagement in guardianships. However, Pennsylvania laws aim to protect wards by requiring accountability from guardians. For example, guardians must periodically file reports with the court. Typically, a report is filed when the guardianship starts, then at least once every year. Also, guardians must ask the court for permission to pay certain bills. All this is done to protect wards from potential abuse.
Pennsylvania courts can terminate a guardianship when the guardian is not acting in the ward’s best interests.
Sometimes Wards Claim They No Longer Need Assistance
During a hearing held on June 23, 2021, Britney Spears described her life under the conservatorship. She has not been allowed to make business and personal decisions.
Ms. Spears claims she is now capable of running her own life and handling her own finances. She potentially has medical professionals willing to state that she is no longer incapacitated.
In Pennsylvania, courts can terminate a guardianship because the ward’s condition has improved. Often, the ward will file a petition to terminate the guardianship. At this Review Hearing the burden is still on the original petitioner to prove incapacity. The burden is not on the ward to prove capacity. Sometimes the judge will appoint an attorney ad litem to represent the ward’s legal interests. In some cases, the ad litem might help gather evidence regarding the ward’s condition.
And Outside Observers May Note Signs that Guardianships Are Not Working
Due to her celebrity status, Britney Spears’ conservatorship has played out in public. At least one group of fans has formed the #FreeBritney campaign to end her conservatorship. However, information gained through the news or social media is not always accurate.
In Ms. Spears’ case, some of her family, friends, and employees were concerned about the conservatorship. Her father’s actions were particularly alarming. At least one financial institution, Bessemer Trust, and several attorneys quit working for the conservatorship. The reasons they gave included they wanted to respect the singer’s wishes or had not known that the conservatorship was not voluntary.
Pennsylvania courts grant limited powers or plenary (full) powers to guardians. Family members, friends, social workers, financial institutions, or medical professionals may notice that a guardian has exceeded the authority granted by the court. If the guardian’s actions are suspicious, interested parties can petition the court to terminate or modify the current arrangements.
ELDER LAW Attorneys Can Help with Guardianships, Contentious or Not
Please contact our elder law attorneys whether you need a guardianship or are concerned because someone has petitioned the court to become your guardian. Also, remember that proper estate planning can help you avoid the need for a guardianship.
Attorney Robert Slutsky assists clients with estate planning, probate, and guardianship. He also was one of the first lawyers in Pennsylvania to focus on elder law issues, including Medicaid. Since 1992, he has helped countless people find solutions that work for their individual situations.
Please give us a call at (610) 940-0650 or contact us through our website. We have been serving clients throughout Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Bucks, and Philadelphia Counties and beyond for almost three decades.
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