In recent weeks, music icon Britney Spears has been dominating headlines as more and more details about her legal conservatorship have come to light. In her emotional court hearing a few weeks ago, Britney spoke out about the abusive nature of the legal arrangement, describing how every detail of her life一from her social media posts to the medications she was on一was managed by a ten-person panel headed by her father. For more than a decade, Spears has had no control over her financial and personal affairs, instead having to rely on her father for permission to act. Among the many restrictions she was under, she was expressly forbidden from publicly discussing or speaking out against the conservatorship.
Conservatorships are normally reserved for individuals with diminished decision-making capacity, such as dementia patients. In 2008, Spears’ family petitioned the California legal system for a conservatorship in response to her alleged mental instability following Spears’ divorce. The current controversy is whether the arrangement should continue to exist, and whether Spears’ father is guilty of conservatorship abuse. (For a thorough explanation on the situation, the New Yorker has an excellent article, linked here).
Leaving aside the issues of whether or not Britney Spears’ conservatorship was or is an abuse of power, her story still serves as a cautionary tale about the downsides, dangers, and complexities of court-appointed conservatorships and guardianships. Fortunately, a revocable living trust offers you control about when and how incapacity is determined, and what steps should be taken afterward.
Your revocable living trust allows you to leave the determination of your incapacity to individuals you trust, whether that be family members, or independent board-certified doctors. Should a determination of incapacity be made, your designated decision-making representative (or “agent”) can start acting immediately in your place and for your benefit, without having to go through a potentially lengthy, complex, and expensive court proceeding. A revocable living trust even offers you the ability to limit the powers of your decision-making representative, such as preventing them from giving away any of your assets.
Many people approach estate planning with the mindset of determining how their assets will be distributed upon their death. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, how useful and multifaceted of a tool the revocable living trust is, especially in keeping decision-making up to you, instead of the courts. We here at Wood Law are ready to help you draft a trust that meets your needs, and keeps you away from a conservatorship or other situation that would be toxic.