#FreeBritney – Star’s Legal Battle Shines Spotlight on Guardianship Law

CONSERVATORSHIP - Probate Trust Real Estate

If you are a user of any social media platform, you are likely familiar with the #FreeBritney movement. In short, the movement is one started by fans of pop-star Britney Spears to support her in efforts to end a conservatorship over her assets. Her conservatorship stems in part from a series of very public breakdowns suffered by the singer in 2007 & 2008. Fans have indicated their support for the conservatorship to end, thereby returning control of the assets to Britney.

Conservatorships are generally established when an individual is found by a Court to be unable to manage their own affairs. The Court appoints an individual or financial institution to manage the assets and finances of the allegedly incapacitated person. In Britney’s case, her father, Jamie Spears, was appointed as her conservator in 2008. He has been in control of her finances ever since. The specifics and evidence for why the conservatorship was originally granted remains sealed by the Court, but a recent documentary on the issue implied the relationship between Britney and her father had become toxic and was no longer in her best interest. At a hearing in California last month, the Court denied a request for the removal of Jamie Spears as conservator, but did allow for a well-known trust company, to be appointed to serve as a co-conservator.

The #FreeBritney movement and the discussion surrounding the conservatorship shines a light on a similar area of the law: guardianships. Most people are familiar with the general idea of a guardian as it relates to parents and their minor children, but there are other instances, such as with elderly individuals or those with certain developmental issues, where a legal guardian may be necessary. In situations where an individual does not have a previously established power-of-attorney and does not have the capacity to execute a power-of-attorney, guardianship may be appropriate.

A “guardian of the estate” may be appointed according to N.J.S.A. 3B:12-25. Upon a finding of incapacity by the Superior Court, a guardian can be appointed to manage the affairs of the incapacitated person. Incapacity can take many forms, such as mental illness, chronic alcoholism or drug use, or severe injuries such as traumatic brain injury.  When appointed, the guardian of the estate is responsible for managing the financial affairs, and accounting for the assets in the estate of the incapacitated person. As a fiduciary, the guardian has a duty to act responsibly in managing the affairs of the incapacitated individual.

An incapacitated person may also require a guardian of his or her person. The guardianship of the person deals with the non-financial affairs of a person, such as medical decisions and living arrangements. A guardian of the person must file periodic reports as to the well-being of the individual, visit with the individual to make sure of their well-being, and provide for appropriate activities and social opportunities.

The application for a guardianship is governed by New Jersey law and Court Rules.  The application forms can generally be located on the Surrogate Court’s website for the County in which you reside. Should you have any questions or believe a family member is in need of a guardian, please feel free to contact Ward, Shindle & Hall.