Frequently conservatorship issues arise in California family law cases. On Tuesday March 20, 2012, Francesca Hilton, daughter of superstar Zsa Zsa Gabor, asked the court to grant a conservatorship over her ninety-five year old mother. Hilton claims that her mother’s husband is mishandling her finances and possibly tampering with her medical treatment. In an effort to protect her mother’s estate and health, Hilton requested that the court give her power over her mother’s finances and medical care. If the court decides not to appoint Hilton as her mother’s conservator, Hilton’s attorney stated that she would be willing to allow a third party to do the job. In response to her accusations, Gabor’s husband has alleged that Hilton is filing for conservatorship in an effort to get her mother’s money. A hearing has been scheduled on May 2, 2012 to litigate the conservatorship.
While conservatorships are relatively common for older adults like Zsa Zsa Gabor, it is not often that a conservatorship is granted over a young and healthy adult. Recently Jamie Spears’ conservatorship over his daughter’s estate has been the subject of celebrity gossip. Pop icon Britney Spears was declared mentally incompetent in 2007 when her father became the conservator over her affairs. Britney’s team has been accused of using the conservatorship as a form of protection for Spears. Many lawsuits have been filed against Britney and/or her affiliates and, considering she is mentally incompetent, she has not been forced to participate in the litigation including depositions. The conservatorship has also had consequences for Spears’ personal life and career including the sale of her home, the postponement of her wedding, and a new contract to act as a judge on The X Factor.
A conservatorship is a court proceeding to appoint a person to manage the financial affairs and/or personal well-being of another person who is either mentally or physically unable to manage his or her own finances or personal care. A conservator can be either a person or an organization. Often a family member, close friend, or hired professional is appointed as conservator over the conservatee’s estate or medical care.
A San Diego court may order different conservatorships depending on the facts of a particular case. The court can grant a conservatorship of the person. This conservatorship is appropriate when the conservatee has a severe physical disability and is unable to provide for his or her basic needs. In a case where the conservatee is not mentally competent to handle his or her finances including both debt and income, the court can grant a conservatorship of the estate. The court has the authority, as it did in the Spears case, to grant a conservatorship of the person and the estate. This combination approach grants the conservator control over both the health and finances of the conservatee.
A conservatorship is a complex proceeding that often requires many court hearings and attorneys. The conservator has great power over the life and estate of the conservatee; however, he or she is also charged with many responsibilities. The conservator is responsible for keeping detailed records of his or her decisions and actions along with filing updates with the court on a regular basis. This court supervision provides extra protection for the incompetent or disabled conservatee. Additional safeguards are in place regarding real property. In order to ensure that the conservator makes responsible decisions, especially regarding significant assets, the court may require the conservator to seek court approval before the sale of real property. This additional step may also be necessary in order to carry out a decision to take the conservatee off life-sustaining support. In the Spears conservatorship case, Jamie Spears was unable to sell Britney’s LA mansion without prior court approval. This type of constraint is common in most conservatorship cases.