Princess of Pop, Britney Spears, and the #FreeBritney movement are the primary focus of the recently released documentary by The New York Times, “Framing Britney Spears.” In addition to highlighting Spears’ rise to fame and the media circus accompanying her young adult years, this documentary highlights the complexities of her conservatorship (otherwise known as “guardianship”), of which her father has had primary responsibility until recently.
The release of this documentary follows the viral #FreeBritney campaign, a movement led by Spears’ fans who believe the entertainer was inappropriately forced into the now thirteen-year conservatorship. This conservatorship continues to impact most, if not all, areas of Spears’ daily life, including management of her assets, making decisions regarding her entertainment career, custody and parenting time with her two teenage sons, and possibly her ability to remarry.
The recent media focus on Spears has left people wondering, what exactly is a conservatorship? How does a person end up in a conservatorship? Do such arrangements exist under New Jersey law?
Clarifying Guardianship and Conservatorship
A conservatorship (or guardianship) is a fiduciary relationship in which a court has appointed a person and/or entity with legal authority to make decisions and otherwise act on behalf of an incapacitated person. In New Jersey, courts must specifically find that a person is incapacitated before a guardianship will be ordered for a person who has otherwise reached the age of majority. It is because of the substantial and significant legal ramifications and impediments on a person’s rights that result from guardianships, as evidenced by the recent Spears documentary, that the alleged incapacitated person cannot simply consent to the appointment of a guardian or conservator. A finding that a person is incapacitated means that the court has determined, based on the evidence presented, that the person is incapable of managing some or all areas of his or her life.
Guardianship in New Jersey
In New Jersey, there are two types of guardianship: guardian of the person and guardian of the estate (assets). Further, guardianship can be all-encompassing or limited. For example, a court can find that a person only needs a guardian to make medical and financial decisions on behalf of the other person. Guardianship proceedings arise for various reasons, including but not limited to persons with cognitive and developmental disabilities, mental health disabilities, substance dependency, and more. Guardianships are ordered for persons both young and old. Adult children may be guardians for elderly parents, parents can continue to be guardians for adult children, and non-relatives can be guardians for others.
When a guardianship application is filed, the court will appoint an attorney for the alleged incapacitated person who will meet with that person, as well as the proposed guardian(s), and submit a report to the court. The alleged incapacitated person also has a right to demand a jury trial on the issue of his or her incapacity. If guardianship is ordered, it will generally continue unless and until an application is filed for its termination. Before terminating the guardianship, the court must find that the person has regained his or her capacity. Such proceedings often require immense legal preparation.
Contact Lyons & Associates, P.C. for Assistance
If you have questions regarding guardianship, the skilled and knowledgeable attorneys at Lyons & Associates, P.C. have extensive experience in addressing this particular issue. We invite you to contact us online or give us a call at our office at 908-575-9777 to schedule an appointment.
By: Marie T. Bucci, Esq. & Joanna R. Adu, Esq.