Thanks to a recent court ruling, the conservatorship of singer Britney Spears has again received wide media attention in the past few weeks. The conservatorship of Spears has been a matter of public debate since it was initiated in 2008, but the recent court appearances and question of whether her father, Jaime Spears will remain a co-conservator of her estate has renewed public interest in the matter.
A conservatorship is a legal concept that allows a judge to grant a conservator (or multiple conservators) full control over an individual’s finances if that person is physically or mentally unable to manage them. A conservator can be responsible for a conservatee’s “person” or estate. If the conservator is responsible for the conservatee’s “person”, this means that the conservator manages the conservatee’s daily life, living arrangements, health care decisions, social environment, and more.
In New York, the conservatorship and committeeship statutes that related to the management of the person and property of adults were repealed in 1993 and replaced with the Mental Hygiene Law Article 81 Guardianship statute (MHL Article 81).
Instead, New York allows for two separate proceedings to appoint a guardian(s) for adults who lack capacity:
- Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act (SCPA) Article 17-A – Guardianship of an Adult with Developmental and/or Intellectual Disabilities
- MHL Article 81 – Guardianship of an Incapacitated Adult with functional limitations
Although each type of guardianship proceeding is authorized by its own law, both allow for the appointment of a guardian of the person only, a guardian of the property only, or the guardian of the person and property.
Since they are all authorized and guided by separate laws, the process by which a guardian is appointed in each of the types of guardianships will be different.
The MHL Article 81 guardianship law is generally the proceeding that is used when an adult who once had capacity, has lost capacity and needs assistance with managing his or her personal needs and/or property management, and allows for the appointment of a Guardian for Personal Needs or Property Management.
The law is designed to establish a system capable of satisfying the personal or property management needs of an incapacitated person, in a manner tailored to the individual needs of that person, while leaving him or her with the greatest degree of independence and self-determination possible.
If Britney Spears lived in New York at the time she lost capacity, then it is very likely that an MHL Article 81 Guardianship proceeding would have been brought to help her.
The MHL Article 81 guardianship proceeding is a means
In the Britney Spears’ case, her father James “Jamie” Spears was initially named as co-conservator of his daughter’s “person” and estate with an attorney, Andrew Wallet. In 2019, Wallet resigned and Jamie remained the sole conservator. Then in September 2019, he was removed as Britney Spears’ conservator of the person, and Jodi Montgomery was named as the care manager for her “person.” In November 2020, Bessemer Trust was named as co-conservator to serve with Britney’s father, Jamie. Now the question of whether Jamie Spears will remain as a co-conservator is before the court.
As one could imagine, guardianships can get fairly complicated. Therefore, it is important to meet with an attorney who is experienced in guardianships and can help guide you through the process.