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Portrait of a Child Artist as a Young Conservatee: Conservatorship and The Amanda Bynes Story



Remember the good old days when celebrity meltdowns were cleverly hidden from the press and we had no idea how troubled our favorite stars were? No? Neither can we. Which fortuitously brings us to today’s subject: Amanda Bynes. For those of you who may not know her artistic past (because her recent antics have been all over the ‘news’), Ms. Bynes rose to prominence on a number of television shows on Nickelodeon and later in the type of teen romance comedy genre that those of us who actually lived through the 80s try so desperately to avoid. There is quite a bit of uncertainty as to whether Ms. Bynes actually qualifies as a star of any kind, but she does generate quite a bit of press.

Speaking of the press, in a surprising show of journalistic accuracy, the website TMZ has been reporting daily updates of Ms. Bynes increasingly concerning behavior. Her bizarre antics resulted in Ms. Bynes being put on a psychiatric hold and then being conserved. (If you feel like being confused, read the petition here: https://amradaronline.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/amanda-bynes-lynn-conservator-doc.pdf)Her parents were originally her conservators but found they were unable to manage their daughter and are turning over control of her estate (e.g. her finances) to a professional money manager and her person (e.g. her daily living, medical and mental health needs) to a mental health professional. (Read it on the prestigious TMZ site: http://www.tmz.com/2014/11/06/amanda-bynes-parents-surrendering-conservatorship-moving-texas-money//?adid=TMZ_Search_Results .)

Conservatorships, as Ms. Bynes no doubt recently discovered, are no fun. Under a conservatorship of the estate, the conservatee loses control of their finances, financial decisions and usually their ability to even enter into a contract of any kind. (When Ms. Bynes appeared in court with a lawyer to challenge the conservatorship after it had already been granted, the judge held that as a conservatee Ms. Bynes doesn’t have the capacity to enter into an agreement to even hire a lawyer. It’s troubling that the lawyer didn’t know that. Or didn’t care.) A conservatorship of the person involves the conservator making daily living decisions for the conservatee, usually including how and where they live, who can visit them and even when they can go out (in some cases). Conservatorships are most common when a proposed elderly conservatee is no longer able to care for themselves.

For the conservator, it may seem that decision-making and management of the conservatee’s affairs is much simpler after a conservatorship is in place. But as Peter Parker’s uncle said, with great power comes great responsibility. The court maintains oversight over every penny of the conservatee’s estate that is spent.  Detailed accountings are due to the court on a regular basis. Irked relatives can challenge the conservatorship, making for a prolonged, contested process. None of this is easy or straightforward, but almost all of it can be avoided.

How, you ask? Validly executed durable powers of attorney for financial matters and advanced health care directives make the need for a conservatorship largely mute. These documents can be as specific as you would like and you can list whomever you want as your agent. There can be co-agents or back-up agents, depending upon your needs and comfort level.

So heed the troubling portrait of conservatorships, conservatees, and conservators painted so vividly by Ms. Bynes. Talk to an estate planning attorney today to complete your advanced health care directive and durable power of attorney.  

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