The Complications of Conservatorships

During last month’s hearing, Britney Spears gave an emotional plea to the California Superior Court to finally end her 13-year conservatorship. In recent time, the #FreeBritney conversation has brought light to the issue of conservatorships, and how to navigate the black, white, and gray of it all.

A conservatorship is when a court determines that an individual cannot manage her own affairs and appoints someone to act on the individual’s behalf. There are generally two pieces of a conservatorship: A conservator manages the property of the incapacitated adult (business and financial affairs); A guardian takes care of the incapacitated adult's personal needs (health care, housing, etc.). In both situations, the legal rights of the incapacitated adult are given over to the conservator and guardian.

Conservatorships are meant to support people who are incapable of making decisions. The process requires regular reports filed with the court detailing all actions taken. Continuous court oversight (and in some states the need for court approval before making decisions) makes it more difficult for someone to mismanage an incapacitated adult’s finances or make bad health care decisions. Many times, a conservatorship also helps protect an incapacitated adult who may be exposed to financial exploitation.

However, conservatorships are not always ideal. Given the need for regular reporting and detailed accountings, the process can be expensive and time-consuming. All court proceedings and documentation are also public record, leaving little privacy for everyone involved.

An estate plan is the best tool to help you maintain your control, even when incapacitated. A power of attorney and patient advocate designation allow you to voluntarily designate a trusted person to exercise your rights when you are not able. This is very different from a conservatorship, where you lose your rights completely. An estate plan can also allow business owners to create a succession plan and choose a person to take over if the owner becomes incapacitated.

Your estate plan cannot guarantee that you will never need a conservatorship, but it can greatly reduce the likelihood. If you need help getting your documents in order, contact us at or (248) 477-6300.

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