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Modification of Guardianship or Conservatorship: Lessons From Britney Spears

The media has been all abuzz in recent months, weeks, and years about Britney Spears’ conservatorship. We all remember the fateful photo from 2007, showing Spears gleefully buzzing her signature long, blond locks. Shortly after, her father was appointed conservator for her. Fans have long suspected that Spears is dissatisfied with the structures of her conservatorship and the decisions made by her father and conservator Jamie Spears. For an internet deep dive on the topic, follow #FreeBritney. Spears has historically not spoken out against the conservatorship publicly – until now. Spears spoke to an LA County, California court for almost half an hour on June 23, 2021, airing grievances with her conservatorship, and particularly her conservator. For more information on the explosive testimony, follow this link: https://people.com/music/britney-spears-will-continue-fighting-for-future-after-shocking-court-testimony-cover-story/.

The Judge denied the request to modify the conservatorship on the basis that a formal petition had not been filed yet.

Luckily, for protected people and their families in Oregon and Washington, the courts have powers to address legitimate complaints of protected people who wish to have their guardianships or conservatorships modified or terminated – even when a formal petition has not been filed.  By way of background, a guardian is someone who is appointed by a court to protect and care for the health and well-being of another person. A conservator is someone who is appointed by a court to protect and care for the financial resources of another person.

In Oregon, the court has a wide latitude to appoint an attorney for a protected person – someone who can advocate for the rights of the protected person. Oregon statutes recognize the very grave nature of removing rights from a person, and caution courts to make orders only as restrictive as necessary. ORS 125.300(1), provides . . . “A guardianship for an adult person must be designed to encourage the development of maximum self-reliance and independence of the protected person and may be ordered only to the extent necessitated by the person’s actual mental and physical limitations.” The attorney for the protected person can help advocate for less restrictive supports and alternatives to the guardianship.

In Washington, the court also has wide latitude to appoint an attorney for a protected person. (RCW 11.88.045). The attorney for a protected person advocates for the protected person, and is separate and distinct from a guardian ad litem. The court may also appoint a guardian ad litem to investigate the complaints against the guardian (or conservator), or if it finds good cause. Washington statutes also recognize the importance of personal liberty interests and caution courts to make orders only as restrictive as necessary. “It is the intent of the legislature to protect the liberty and autonomy of all people of this state, and to enable them to exercise their rights under the law to the maximum extent, consistent with the capacity of each person. The legislature recognizes that people with incapacities have unique abilities and needs, and that some people with incapacities cannot exercise their rights or provide for their basic needs without the help of a guardian. However, their liberty and autonomy should be restricted through the guardianship process only to the minimum extent necessary to adequately provide for their own health or safety, or to adequately manage their financial affairs.” RCW 11.88.005.

Those who are subject to a guardianship or conservatorship who would like their rights restored should seek the advice of an attorney to understand better whether modification or termination is right for them.