November 4, 2022 • Volume 32, Issue 38
Does the system need reform?
By Susan Ladika


Pop singer Britney Spears' bid to free herself from a 13-year conservatorship, under which others controlled her personal and financial decisions, put this legal process in the national spotlight. But untold numbers of uncelebrated people — primarily senior citizens or people with disabilities — are living under what are termed conservatorships in California and called guardianships in many other states. Allegations of abuse are not uncommon, with guardians accused of stealing money or even improperly taking out do-not-resuscitate orders on those they are charged to protect. Guardianships fall under state law, and statutes can vary greatly, with standards of practice often lacking. While many people familiar with the system say guardianships are necessary in some cases to protect vulnerable people, some experts say guardianships take away an individual's civil rights and liberties. In some jurisdictions, there is a push to adopt the option of supported decision-making, in which the individual turns to a trusted team to help make decisions on such things as finances or medical care.

Photo of supporters of Britney Spears in Los Angeles, California, on September 29, 2021. (Getty Images/Kevin Winter)
Supporters of Britney Spears rally outside a Los Angeles courthouse on Sept. 29, 2021, while a hearing on the future of Spears' conservatorship takes place inside. Spears' fight to end her conservatorship brought national attention to problems with such arrangements. (Getty Images/Kevin Winter)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Challenges of the Courts
Nov. 04, 2022  Conservatorships
Jan. 14, 2011  Cameras in the Courtroom
Oct. 22, 1993  Science in the Courtroom
May 27, 1988  Protecting Rights in State Courts
Oct. 07, 1983  Court Backlog
Jan. 16, 1981  Television in the Courtroom
Jun. 03, 1970  Reform of the Courts
Nov. 16, 1960  Congestion in the Courts
Mar. 07, 1956  Cameras in Court
Jul. 18, 1939  Reform of Lower Federal Courts
Feb. 04, 1936  Restriction of Powers of Federal Courts
Apr. 14, 1931  Reform of Magistrates' Courts
Congress Actions
Domestic Issues
Federal Courts
Freedom of Information
Internet and Social Media
Legal Professions and Resources
Mental Health
Nursing Homes and Long Term Care Facilities
People with Disabilities
Popular Culture
Protest Movements
Regulation and Legal Issues
Supreme Court History and Decisions
Work and the Family