What is a conservatorship?

By Andrew Zashin*

Would the #FreeBritney movement have transpired if her conservatorship were granted in Ohio under Ohio law?

Most people are aware of Britney Spears’ conservatorship as it has increasingly consumed the media, news outlets, and was the topic of several streaming service documentaries. Despite the myriad of articles and documentaries informing us what has gone on throughout her conservatorship, there is still a lack of understanding as to what a conservatorship is, how one ends up in a conservatorship, what a conservator does and how one could get out of a conservatorship.

What is a Conservatorship?

A conservatorship is a product of probate law and a type of guardianship arrangement. The California conservatorship statute is broad. A conservator of the person may be appointed for: a person who is unable to provide properly for his or her personal needs for physical health, food, clothing or shelter; a person who is substantially unable to manage his or her own financial resources or resist fraud or undue influence; or a person and estate may be appointed for a person who falls within both categories.

In Ohio, conservatorships are reserved for physically infirm adults and that adult may petition the probate court to put oneself and/or any of that adult’s real or personal property under a conservatorship. For example, someone has a stroke and is of sound mind to make decisions about one’s finances but is unable to manage the mechanics of billpaying. That person could enter into a conservatorship for a conservator to facilitate those transactions on their behalf.

There is a divergence between candidates for conservatorships in California and Ohio. You must be mentally competent in Ohio to enter into a conservatorship, whereas mental incompetence is what qualifies one for conservatorship in California. As such, Spears would not have been put under a conservatorship in Ohio because she was not physically infirm (as required in Ohio) and may have lacked mental competence.

A probate court in California found Spears to be unable to provide for her personal needs and substantially unable to manage her finances or resist being taken advantage of following Spears’ serious mental breakdown in 2008.

Here in Ohio, the person entering the conservatorship enters a petition outlining the terms and scope of their relationship. The person under conservatorship maintains decision making control and determines what will be placed under the conservatorship, responsibilities of the conservator and any limitations on the powers of the conservator or court, as well as nominates the conservator.

How is Conservatorship terminated?

Spears fought for several years to first change named conservators, and then later, to terminate her conservatorship all together. On Nov. 12, a California judge terminated the conservatorship and the #FreeBritney movement came to an end.

In Ohio, the execution of a written termination notice by the petitioner acts to terminate the conservatorship, effective immediately. Had Spears lived in Ohio, she would not have needed to litigate the issue of the conservatorship’s termination. A few strokes of a pen would have ended her conservatorship.

To find out more about conservatorship in Ohio or if you have questions about the role, visit disabilityrightsohio.org or your local probate court website.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.