Actress Amanda Bynes has requested to end her conservatorship, months after superstar Britney Spears’s conservatorship ended in a contentious public battle – but unlike the pop singer, Bynes seems to be getting what she wants without a fight.
In just a month’s time, Bynes has had her request to end her nine-year-long conservatorship granted, according to The New York Times. Bynes had already received a tentative ruling in her favor on Monday ahead of the Tuesday hearing, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Spears and Bynes, who both rose to fame during the ‘90s and early 2000s, were ushered into these arrangements after having public meltdowns. But that’s where the resemblance seems to end.
Their experiences with conservatorships could not have appeared more different in the public eye.
It took more than a year, and many protests from devoted fans, for Spears, who was under a conservatorship for 14 years, to see her freedom. The petition to end her conservatorship resulted in a “Free Britney” movement, and multiple documentaries on her experience. Spears has been more open about the ordeal on her social media since.
“Britney will always be an example of abuse of conservatorship,” said Jack Hales, a partner at law firm Hales & Sellers.
Bynes first became popular on the network Nickelodeon with “The Amanda Show,” her own sketch comedy series. She also starred in films like “Big Fat Liar” alongside Frankie Muniz and “What A Girl Wants” alongside Kelly Preston and Colin Firth. In 2013, her parents filed for conservatorship after a few mishaps including substance abuse and allegedly starting a small fire in a stranger’s driveway.
Unlike Spears’s situation, Bynes and her conservator appear to be in agreement about ending the arrangement. “That’s a sign of a guardianship done well, if you’re able to get someone back on their feet after a rough spot,” Hales said.
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Bynes has been mostly “under the radar” during her conservatorship (also known as a guardianship depending on state) and retired from the spotlight, Hales said, while Spears was supposed to continue working big shows – something uncommon when a person under a conservatorship is supposedly incapable of handling her own affairs, said Ryan Sellers, a partner at law firm Hales & Sellers. Jamie Spears, Britney’s father, acted as her conservator and also fought to keep the conservatorship going, while Bynes’ mother, and her conservator, allegedly agreed it was time to end the conservatorship.
The court must make many assessments before ending a guardianship, such as looking at how conservatees have fared during that time and if they are doing well because of the arrangement or because they’re better able to handle their affairs now than they were when the conservatorship began. “There are a lot of unknowns and you need to weigh everything,” Sellers said.
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These arrangements are not typical of the average person in her 20s or 30s experiencing mental health issues, but Bynes and Spears were in unique cases with substantial assets, Sellers said. Guardianships are much more common among young disabled individuals, whose parents usually act as their guardians for the rest of their lives, or older, incapacitated individuals unable to manage their finances or persons anymore.
The experiences of both Bynes and Spears can shed some light on what to do – and what not to do – in preparation for incapacity The most important takeaway: Plan ahead.
Conservatorships can be “exploitative,” wrote Erica Loberg, a poet and author of “I’m Not Playing,” a book about her experience with her mother’s conservatorship. Removing the conservator, who charged thousands of dollars a month to handle her mother’s affairs, took almost two years and half a dozen court hearings, she wrote.
Individuals should first ask if there are less restrictive alternatives, such as a power of attorney, where the person grants someone else the ability to make decisions on their behalf. “Guardianships and conservatorships need to be emphasized that it’s not just having the power to make decisions, but also taking away power to make decisions,” Hales said.
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A power of attorney can be complex and vary by state, but they’re one of the top documents financial professionals suggest individuals create when conducting financial and estate planning.
Families should also discuss estate and financial wishes, and if a conservator is necessary, do their “homework” before hiring someone who isn’t a family member or friend, Loberg wrote. Document everything, too.
For older individuals, timing is key. How soon people can spot or accept a problem with cognitive decline will determine next steps, and potentially prevent a conservatorship that strips them of their right to make their own decisions, Sellers said. When disputes then occur between these individuals and their families about the “right” financial decisions or getting the proper health care, it could eventually lead to court and the potential petitioning for a guardianship.
“A lot of people don’t accept what’s happening, or don’t realize it until it’s too late,” Sellers said.