The case of Amanda Bynes’ illustrates how the decision can take a fatal toll on the family
|The next scheduled hearing in Amanda Bynes’ conservatorship proceedings is set to take place in February 2015.|
Guardianships and conservatorships are proceedings provided for under state laws, which generally provide for the care of minors or disabled adults who are unable to make responsible decisions concerning their own person or assets due to mental illness or disability. Although that standard could arguably apply to anyone lacking in common sense and with poor impulse control, guardianships are most typically used to allow adults to take care of elderly parents suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, for a caretaker to be appointed for a minor whose parents have passed away or can no longer take care of them or to care for an adult after a serious injury or health issue. In one subset of the last category, these proceedings are used to appoint a responsible caretaker for young adults suffering from mental illness, drug addiction or both. The purpose of these proceedings is to protect and care for someone in need of assistance, but in a manner that amounts to taking away some of that individual’s civil rights.
Every state code includes specific provisions governing guardianship and/or conservatorship proceedings and, typically, codifies the tests for determining when a guardian may be appointed. However, the issue ultimately presented in each case is one of fact, that is, whether the circumstances of the specific individual fall under the statutory requirements such that a guardian should be appointed. Ultimately, the state courts determine whether an individual is incapacitated, protect that individual’s right to due process within the proceedings, appoint a guardian and determine the guardian’s duties and ensure that the guardian satisfies her fiduciary duties to the ward. Before a guardian or conservator is appointed, the individual being put under the guardianship or conservatorship receives notice of the proceedings and has an opportunity to object to it. She may choose her own counsel to represent her at the proceeding or, in many states, may have a lawyer appointed for her by the state if she can’t afford to hire one.
In California, the state’s mental health laws allow for any individuals who are a danger to themselves or others or who are gravely disabled to be detained for up to 72 hours for observation and crisis treatment. At the end of the 72 hours, the state may certify the patient for an additional 14 days if certain conditions are met. The statute provides for additional involuntary confinement thereafter for up to 180 days at a time. Alternatively, if a judge finds that the individual is gravely disabled as a result of a mental disorder or chronic alcoholism, then a conservator may be appointed, and the judge may specify the conservator’s specific powers including payment of debts, management of the person’s property and estate and decisions regarding medication.1 After the judge appoints a conservator, the judge will re-evaluate the conservatorship and the specific powers annually.
While mental illness is fairly prevalent in our society, it’s particularly noticeable and acute in the unique circumstances of celebrities, where the media is quick to report on anything and everything they do, so-called friends and family might be willing to betray them for a piece of fortune or fame and wild and crazy behavior indicating that something may be wrong is often exponentially more dramatic because the amount of money celebrities may blow through is staggering. These cases highlight that in the context of guardianships, more money really does mean more problems. And with more problems comes more publicity. Guardianships and conservatorships are seemingly being increasingly used in California by the parents of troubled Hollywood celebrities and former child stars, like Britney Spears in 2008, and most recently, former Nickelodeon breakthrough starlet Amanda Bynes in 2013 and again in 2014.
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