The subject of the Conservatorship of American singer, song writer, and actress Britney Spears has exploded in the headlines recently and over the last decade been a sensational topic in all forms of media. While there are certainly ardent fans that passionately believe in their slogan “free Britney”, most media followers see this as a “Hollywood Star” issue. Court ordered and supervised Conservatorships are, however, a reality and a lifesaving remedy for distressed families across the nation.
As a California Licensed Professional Fiduciary, I have served as a Court appointed Conservator and know the enormous responsibility that comes from being a Conservator. Though I have no personal or professional knowledge about the specific facts of the Spears case, my expertise allows me an understanding and recognition of the complexities surround this type of case. Even if I should have specific knowledge and facts, privacy rights and ethics would prevent me from disclosing personal or confidential information. I do, nonetheless, recognize why in many instances a Conservatee would feel ‘controlled’.
Most adults feel that they should have the right to do as they please. And for many reasons, historically, legally and culturally these rights are guarded. But if an individual is unable to act in their own self-interest or an impairment makes the individual the victim of financial, physical and mental abuse, should they be ‘left alone’? A Conservatorship can be temporarily or permanently established to protect vulnerable and/or impaired individuals.
While an individual’s rights must be vigorously protected, I have personally witnessed families tragically torn apart by shockingly erratic, deathly dangerous or irreversible financially destructive behavior. Conservatorships are a remedy that can save a life, protect an individual from financial ruin, or a means for a person to receive the medical treatment that is desperately needed. In California, before an individual becomes a Conservatee, a rigorous process is undertaken where the physical, emotional, mental, and medical condition of the individual is examined.
While Conservatorships of the rich and famous are likely to be endlessly debated in the media, many families of color, or from historically underserved communities are unaware or do not have the resources to take advantage of the protections that a Conservatorship offers.
While there are debates about the role of a professional versus a family member Conservator, the appropriate questions should be focused on what serves the best interests of a family member who is a victim of a catastrophic accident that leaves them in a coma with a brain injury? Or what are the most effective and protective actions available to adult children of a senior parent who has money in the bank but where the utilities have been disconnected and the home is in foreclosure, yet the parent is insistent that they need no help and do not wish to be treated as a child? What allows relatives to do more than bemoan the fact that a grandchild has become a permanent visitor who now has access to the grandparent’s checking, savings and retirement accounts? And what can be done when the same grandchild has insisted that their grandparent wanted to trade in the family car for a turbo charged sports coupe that they drive? A Court Ordered Conservatorship with a responsible family or professional Conservatee maybe the answer and the solution.
Though I am sympathetic to the anguish of the parties involved in the Spears case being played out in the news, my concern is for the individuals who will never have the adoring and protective fans that will aid in protecting them and their families. My worry is for the families who are hesitant to bring the family’s problem before ‘strangers’ and end up losing intergeneration wealth. My concern is the lack of media campaigns to educate Black, Brown, indigenous, and immigrant families about the support and protection a Conservatorship offers for families dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s, sudden and catastrophic injuries, addiction, or mental impairment.
Though the rules governing Conservatorships, also known as Guardianships, vary by state since Britney is in California certain rules apply in her situation as well as for any other California Conservatee. Every and all Conservatees are always represented by an Attorney, even if they have no financial resources. The Attorney’s only client is the proposed Conservatee. If an individual objects to being Conserved or placed in a Conservatorship, the Attorney is ethically bound to bring this to the Court’s attention. If a family member is unavailable or unsuitable, or if there is conflict in the family, the appointment of a California Licensed Professional Fiduciary (CLPF) is often a wise choice.
Unlike family members all CLPFs must meet educational requirements, undergo financial and criminal background checks, and pass a licensing examination before they are licensed. Further, CLPFs must be licensed before they can be appointed as a Conservator. CLPFs are required to pay a fee to renew their license annually and the renewal also requires continuing education and financial disclosures. Many not only adhere to the ethical requirements of the state oversite agency but take the further step of undergoing the process to become a member of the California Professional Fiduciary Association which requires its members to subscribe to additional professional and ethical standards.
To say that there are not Conservatorship situations that need to be remedied or that there are not cases where mistakes or errors have been made would indicate that the professional world is perfect and there are not situations in which an individual with power would purposely be untruthful. What is important is the recognition that few are rich and famous, however, there are many who are dealing with unanticipated life altering issues. With an increasingly large senior population, enhanced medical ability to save life despite catastrophic illness or accidents, the reality of addiction and mental health epidemics, the circumstances where a Conservatorship is a viable remedy will expand.
As an informed society, hopefully, we can listen to the experts, accept the data and scientific evidence, and agree upon the need for innovative methodologies to educate and support families in economically under-resourced communities and those families who continue to experience systemic and institutional racism. Without concerted efforts and new paradigms, the barriers, especially destructive in African American communities, to intergenerational transfer of wealth in communities of color will continue to prevail.
BJ. Hawkins PhD CLPF is Managing Principal of One Source Fiduciary Solutions. Also, a testifying and consultant Expert Witness, her areas of Expertise include Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Partnership and Ownership disputes, Directors and Officers Fiduciary Responsibilities, Spousal Fiduciary Duty, and Trustee Misconduct and Malfeasance.
Dr. Hawkins is able to brings her notable business career including award winning expertise in business crisis management to efficiently analyze and implement solutions to complex Trust, Conservatorship, and Estate issues.
OFS dba One Source Fiduciary Solutions © July 2021 Marina Del Rey CA 90292