Estate Planning in Texas: Lessons From the Free Britney Movement

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.

Two Basic Documents That Can Avoid a Guardianship

In Texas, the concept of conservatorship is known as guardianship. The courts can appoint a guardian to manage a person’s finances, her everyday life, or both. A guardianship can be temporary or permanent. In all cases, it deprives the person under guardianship of the ability to make everyday decisions independently.

But preemptive estate planning can soften the challenges of living under guardianship. Had the proper estate-planning documents been in place for Ms. Spears before her 2008 mental health crisis, she could have appointed people of her own choice to manage her affairs.

In Texas, a variety of legal instruments could help a person facing the possibility of guardianship. Two of the most potent estate-planning documents that could help include a medical power of attorney and a statutory durable power of attorney.

A medical power of attorney is used to appoint someone to oversee medical decisions in the event of incapacity. Had Ms. Spears established a medical power of attorney of her choice, then her father would not have gained immediate control over her medical affairs as a conservator.

A statutory durable power of attorney is used to appoint someone to oversee financial decisions in the event of incapacity. Similar to the medical power of attorney, had Ms. Spears identified a durable power of attorney in advance of her 2008 crisis, then someone other than her father should have ended up managing her finances.

A statutory durable power of attorney could have even helped Ms. Spears avoid a conservatorship or guardianship altogether.

There is no reason why Ms. Spears could not have established a medical power of attorney and statutory durable power of attorney well in advance of the mental health crisis that led to her conservatorship. With the help of the right estate-planning law firm, creating these estate-planning documents is a relatively simple and fast process that can save people untold heartache.

Consult a Houston Estate-Planning Lawyer

If you currently lack an estate plan, do not wait until you need one in place to contact a lawyer. Having an estate plan in place before you need one can help ensure that you will maintain a sense of autonomy and empowerment in the unpredictable event of mental or physical incapacity. From the young to the elderly, the legal team at McCulloch & Miller, PLLC has extensive experience drafting Houston estate plans for clients from all backgrounds. Our attorneys are dedicated to ensuring that each client leaves with a comprehensive estate plan that meets their unique needs and concerns. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation, call us today at 713-333-8900.

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