Articles Posted in Guardianship

Last month, a judge delivered a ruling that thousands of fans and supporters of Britney Spears had been waiting for. Calling the situation of Spears’s conservatorship “toxic,” the judge decided that Spears’s father must no longer be her conservator. Under the conservatorship (guardianship)—which has been in place for over a decade—Spears’s father has maintained control over nearly every major decision in her life.

The unraveling of this conservatorship bears important lessons for estate planning in Texas. In particular, it demonstrates how early estate planning can help people maintain a sense of autonomy and empowerment even in the event of a court-mandated guardianship.

Just as Ms. Spears could not have predicted the mental health crisis that preceded her conservatorship, no one ever expects to become mentally or physically incapacitated. But estate planning can empower those who do experience the unexpected during the most difficult time in their life.

Once best known for her chart-topping hits, Britney Spears is now in the limelight for a much more somber reason.

For over a decade, Ms. Spears has been under a conservatorship following a decline in her mental health. That conservatorship has recently gained attention and notoriety as Ms. Spears and those around her allege that the arrangement has been abusive. The story of her conservatorship raises an alarming question: If a conservatorship could happen to a woman as powerful as Britney Spears, could it happen to you, too?

Fortunately, there are well-established ways to avoid a court-ordered conservatorship or guardianship in the event of incapacitation. Specifically, trusts and estates lawyers can help build a legal shield in the form of a revocable living trust.

For individuals with minor children, thinking about who would care for them if the parents died unexpectedly may be difficult but necessary. This designation can be made as part of a Houston estate plan, which appoints a person to serve as the legal guardian of a child—only in case of their parents’ untimely passing. Parents without a will should prioritize drafting one, as this documents the individual’s wishes and intents.

When deciding who to name as guardian—or whether to change the designation—there are several aspects to consider:

Factor #1: Location

In a perfect world, a child would be raised by its parents. However, this isn’t always possible, and legally enforceable decisions must sometimes be made to name the person who is best positioned to look after a child.

Guardianship is generally only needed when a person is incapable—whether legally or practically—of looking after their own affairs, says VENTS Magazine in the article “Legal Guardianship 101: What You Need to Know.”

Courts have the power to appoint guardians for adults and children. This is usually a person who is unable to make decisions for themselves.

4.518With a growing population of elderly, the lack of regulations and oversight has led to a disastrous situation for adults who lose civil liberties via guardianship proceedings.

A review by the Reading Eagle of court documents in three Pennsylvania counties show that when it is necessary for Adult Protective Services to intervene, agencies prefer having professional guardians rather than family members.

The story, “Finding solutions to Pennsylvania's troubled system of naming guardians,” reports that over the past two decades, filings statewide have risen 28%, faster than the increase of people 60 and older—the demographic most likely to be in a guardianship. In fact, the system in Pennsylvania already shows signs of strain: the Philadelphia Orphans Court is willing to retain a felon convicted of financial fraud as guardian to dozens of incapacitated adults, because of a shortage of professionals able to assume her caseload.

11.14.17It sounds like a nightmare scenario, and for many elderly, it is a reality: a court appoints a guardian and they lose the ability to make decisions about their assets and their lives, often with no advance warning.

An article in Reuters reports on a journalist’s investigation that revealed a case where a private guardian was appointed by a court in Nevada and got a court order making her guardian of a couple who had an adult daughter. With no advance notice to the couple or their daughter, the guardian sold all of their assets and got them admitted to a nursing home.

Reuters’ article, “With U.S. elder abuse in spotlight, a look at guardians,” reports that the abuses of private-guardian systems in some states have been known by policy and legal experts for years.

4.3.17The moment you become a parent, you need a will. The same is true once you acquire any kind of asset that you want to give to someone after you die. It’s really that simple.

The reasons why so many people don’t think they need a will fall into a number of different categories.  However, the two biggest ones are described in an article appearing in the Pauls Valley Daily Democrat titled “More on estate planning myths.” Chances are good you’ve heard them before, but you may not have heard why they are plain old wrong. Here’s why:

 “I’m young, so I don’t need a will.” This is not true. One of the most important parts of a will for a young couple, is a provision that designates a guardian—the person(s) who will care for their young children in the event of their mutual death. This is rare, although it does happen. To make matters worse, what if there’s a family fight for custody of your children? Make this selection so the court isn’t forced to select a guardian for your minor children if the event arises. A will can give you peace of mind concerning the care of your children.

11.28.16Estate planning for entrepreneurs is not complete until it includes a succession plan. Individuals who create successful businesses often find it hard to consider handing over the reins.

Entrepreneurs would not succeed without their ability to focus all of their energies on their business. It is not easy for this type of person to imagine that one day they may want to retire or that the possibility exists that they might become ill, injured or even die. Without an effective estate plan that includes a succession plan, their work, staff and families may be placed in jeopardy.

A recent business.com post, “5 Estate Planning Tips for Entrepreneurs,” lists these important estate planning essentials:

11.7.16Many people put off doing their wills because of the difficulty of deciding on a guardian for their minor children. But if choosing one is difficult, choosing two might actually make the process easier.

This is the situation no one wants to even think about: both parents dying unexpectedly and young children being raised by someone else. But it does happen. That’s why having a will and naming a guardian is so important for anyone who has children. Usually the problem is deciding between someone who is really good with your kids but who might not be so good or experienced with handling money and investments. But there is another way, as explained by NJ 101.5 in “Choosing guardians for your minor children.”

Yes, you can appoint one person as a guardian of the person—he or she will care for your child—and designate another person as a guardian of the estate—this person will care for your child’s assets. Typically when minors are part of estate planning, the parents’ assets are put into trust until the minor reaches a specified age(s) when distributions are authorized or required to be made. As an illustration, the trust can dictate that a third of the balance be distributed when the beneficiary reaches age 25, a third when he or she reaches age 30, and the remainder when the beneficiary reaches age 35. At that point, the trust will be terminated.

6.8.16In many cases, the incapacitated person does need the protection of a guardian. But far too often, the guardian is the source of abuse, and the lack of oversight leads to appalling situations.

Celebrity cases where persons appointed as guardians fleece their relatives or sequester them against their wills in nursing homes may get the headlines, but what happens to regular people is one of the quiet shames of our country. Despite many changes in the law, vulnerable people continue to be abused by professionals and family members whose interests are not in the well-being of the person they have been court-appointed to protect.

When a judge imposes legal guardianship or conservatorship, the ward or "incapacitated person" may no longer be allowed to decide where to live or whom he or she will see. If a guardian is appointed, that individual gets to decide whether the ward is allowed spending money. He or she won't be able to enter into contracts, including marriage, or demand a different guardian—even if the guardian is abusing the ward or stealing his or her money.

Contact Information