If a loved one is unable to make their own decisions, a person may seek guardianship or conservatorship in Virginia. Guardianships or conservatorships allow a person to make decisions about an estate on a loved one’s behalf. The situation is sometimes stressful and confusing because the owner of the estate is still around.
The inflexible system
Guardianships and conservatorships help adults who are unable to make decisions on their own. A person is put in guardianship or conservatorship when a judge deems them unfit to control their life.
A high-profile example is Britney Spears being under conservatorship since 2008. A judge only allowed her to leave the conservatorship in 2021. Another example is when an 18-year-old got into a car accident and suffered memory loss, insomnia and headaches, a judge officially made his parents his guardians. Ten years later, he’s recovered but is still not allowed to make financial decisions without permission. The U.S. Senate invited him to talk with the guardianship reform committee hearing because of Britney Spears’ public legal battle.
Reform the inflexible system
More areas want adults with physical or intellectual handicaps to have more freedoms while getting support for decision-making. Most guardianships involve people with disabilities, people recovering from injuries or medical conditions, people with severe mental illness and the elderly.
There isn’t an official count of how many people are under the control of guardianships. Judges can put limitations on guardian control, but they rarely do. Some guardianships are necessary, but they shouldn’t be the default for people who need help with decision-making.
No easy way out of guardianship
People need money to hire lawyers to fight guardianships, but they also need permission to use their money. The way many state laws are written, there’s little due process. Certain states don’t ask petitioners for medical evidence, but local courts can ask for it. Some states allow a person at risk of guardianship to have legal counsel while others allow petitioners to submit forms signed by the people under consideration.
Guardianships and conservatorships are intended to help people make decisions, but they can overly restrict the individuals who need help. The laws are under examination: In 2019, certain states began requiring judges to look at alternative solutions to guardianships. As new guardianship laws emerge, states should work to enforce them.