The much debated case of Britney Spears’ Conservatory (which would be called guardianship in New Jersey) underscores the importance of an underrated aspect of guardianship law: guardianship should only be as restrictive and only exist when it is necessary to serve the best interests the community. Granted, while Britney is perhaps an extreme example, it is this element of guardianship that the #FreeBritney movement is really aiming at. That said, while there may have been a time when she needed a replacement decision maker, Spears, who is only 39, should at least reassess her situation.
Britney Spears Guardianship Case
The Britney case certainly underscores the fact that, unless certain rights are expressly reserved, guardianship amounts to the loss of most of the disabled person’s rights. In most cases, little attention is paid to safeguarding the disabled person’s rights, as the degree of disability actually prevents the person from exercising them sensibly or safely. For example, an elderly person with advanced dementia or a younger adult with severe lifelong developmental disabilities cannot manage wealth, pay expenses, attend to their medical needs, or decide whether to undergo surgery.
Generally, “full” or full guardianship is ordered in these cases. However, if necessary, for example if the ward is a younger person with a less severe disability, he or she can exercise certain rights and should be free to do so. In cases other than multi-million dollar pop stars, these rights may include the right to vote, marriage (possibly with the consent of the guardian), obtaining a driver’s license, or maintaining a bank account (possibly up to a certain maximum).
In addition, it is always the case that if the incapacitated person is proven to be able to act again, the guardianship can be terminated with the full restoration of the rights of the formerly incapacitated. This is impractical in the vast majority of cases, but it’s still important to remember, especially with younger people, whose situations and skills can develop or change over time. Advances in drugs to treat Alzheimer’s could also make ending guardianship more realistic.
As for Britney, one case may emerge from the public reports (emphasize “may” as all the facts are unlikely to be known) that she was in crisis at the time of initial guardianship and that she needed to legally administer the lives of others become. It may even be that the guardianship has at least financially maintained and improved their lives. Even if this is the case, the guardianship obligation may no longer exist and the restriction of your rights may therefore not be justified; or perhaps their ability to make certain, certain decisions can be restored.
Public coverage also suggests that another possible change – the guardian’s identity – might be appropriate. While the answers to these questions in Britney’s case are not yet known, the court’s continued oversight of guardianship should give her the opportunity to advocate changes to the status quo.
© 2021 Norris McLaughlin PA, All rights reservedNational Law Review, Volume XI, Number 202