Spears pleaded with a judge to end the “abusive” arrangement, describing how she had been forced to perform, made to use birth control despite wanting a baby and put on lithium against her will, among other concerning details.
Here’s what to know about conservatorships.
How do conservatorships work?
The court-appointed individual is called a conservator, and the incapacitated individual is known as a conservatee.
Elizabeth Adinolfi, an attorney with the law firm Phillips Nizer who has experience working on conservatorship cases, says conservatees tend to be elderly people who are especially vulnerable to exploitation — though she’s seen cases involving younger people, too.
What rights does a conservatee have?
The laws around conservatorships vary from state to state, Adinolfi said.
While a conservatee may no longer have the right to make decisions about issues such as their money or medical care, they do retain some control over other aspects of their lives, depending on where they are.
One right of conservatees that is consistent across the country, Adinolfi said, is the right to ask a judge to end the conservatorship.
Conservatees can also raise concerns with the court over their conservator’s actions or decisions, though different states might have different processes by which to do so.
How do conservatorships end?
There are several ways a conservatorship can come to an end, according to Adinolfi.
In other instances, one party might ask the court to terminate the conservatorship, whether the conservator feels their assistance is no longer needed or the conservatee believes they are capable of making their own decisions.
And other conservatorships might last until the incapacitated individual’s death.
Are conservatorships helpful?
Conservatorships are intended to protect particularly vulnerable individuals from exploitation and abuse, Adinolfi said.
“To be told that you can’t be trusted with money or a car is hurtful,” she wrote. “But to be told that you can’t be trusted with the right to self-determination or your own choices is devastating. It’s a total negation of your humanity.”
Adinolfi attributed many of the documented problems with conservatorships to courts that are underresourced and lack the capacity to vet cases as thoroughly as they should.
But ultimately, she said, there needs to be a system in place to care for those who can’t take care of themselves.
“There’s always a potential for abuse within a system, and as a practitioner and the courts, we all have to be mindful of that and look out for it,” Adinolfi said. “But the flip side of it also is there’s so much abuse that goes on for people who are vulnerable and who have a certain level of incapacity that we can’t leave them unprotected.”