Lately, the issue of conservators has been in the news a lot. In Oregon, a conservator is appointed by the courts to manage a person’s financial affairs. Generally, it is used for people with dementia, a cognitive disability, or who are incapacitated. According to the superior court in the state of California, where many of these celebrity conservatorship cases proceed, conservators can be granted power over an individual’s estate and/or person. Granting power over a person enables the conservator to control the person’s daily life, personal as well as medical decisions and their living arrangements.
Britney Spears began speaking out publicly against her conservatorship in the summer of 2021, accusing her father Jamie, the family and her management of abuse, mistreatment, coercion and conflicts of interest. In July of that summer, Judge Brenda Penny of Los Angeles granted Britney the right to choose her own attorney, former federal prosecutor, Matthew Rosengart. On September 7th, in the face of discovery and depositions, Britney’s father and his legal team reversed their position and filed to terminate the conservatorship. The judge suspended Jamie Spears as the conservator on September 29th and replaced him with an accountant, allowing the conservatorship to continue until its formal termination on November 12th (BBC).
Since then, conservatorship law reform and its connections to human rights has become a discussion across the United States and Britney’s case has served as precedent for legislation both at the state and federal level designed to combat this kind of abuse. Disability rights advocates argue that such legal constrictions make those they’re designed to protect vulnerable to abuse and that it further limits conservatee’s civil rights.
Last week, after nine years, a judge terminated child star Amanda Bynes’ conservatorship. In 2013, Bynes’ parents asked the court to place her under a conservatorship when she was placed under a 72-hour psychiatric hold for setting a fire at her home, according to an NBC article that relied on reporting from the Los Angeles Times. Bynes also admitted to substance abuse and body image issues affecting her mental health.
Judy Mark of Disability Voices United argues that "there needs to be a reckoning of the way that we look at people with disabilities, whether it's a developmental, mental health or an aging-related disability… Conservatorships should only be in place as a last resort. We always have to look at less restrictive alternatives for people in their lives.”
📸: BuzzFeed Daily