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Conservatorships Limited Under New California Law Spurred By #FreeBritney Campaign

Protesters standing near one of the signs for Grand Park in downtown LA carry posters and banners supporting the pop star Britney Spears.
Protesters in Grand Park call for an end to the 13-year conservatorship lead by the pop star Britney Spear's father, Jamie Spears and Jodi Montgomery, who have control over her finances and business dealings.
(Emma McIntyre
Getty Images)
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A bill signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom last week provides more protections to people placed under court-ordered conservatorships in California and promotes less restrictive alternatives.

Probate conservatorships most often involve people with developmental or intellectual disabilities or those with age-related disabilities such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.

If a judge decides a person is unable to make decisions for themselves they can be placed under a conservatorship, which grants legal guardianship to someone else. The court-appointed conservator could be a family member or a stranger. The conservator controls almost all aspects of their lives including their health care, finances, who they see and even their right to vote.

The new law that goes into effect in January requires judges to document all alternatives to conservatorship before granting one, said Judy Mark, president of Disability Voices United, an advocacy group that supported the legislation.

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“It deflects people away from conservatorship in the first place, by saying here are some other ways for you to get support to make decisions so that you don't have all your rights taken away,” Mark said.

“And the big way the law does that is by putting something called supported decision-making into state law for the first time, allowing people with disabilities to choose trusted individuals to support them in making decisions.”

The law also makes it easier to dissolve conservatorships, and requires conservators to talk to the conservatee about decisions and, to the greatest extent possible, take their wishes into consideration unless it endangers their health and safety.

“Our goal now is to ensure that the judges and the courts know that these changes have been made, and that the community of people with disabilities and the people that support them know that there are ways to help them without involving the courts,” Mark said.

Mark says it’s unclear how many people in California are under conservatorships because counties are not required to report data to the state.

Conservatorships gained attention after a social media campaign tagged #FreeBritney to end pop singer Britney Spears 13-year conservatorship, which was granted last year by a judge.

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Updated October 4, 2022 at 4:36 PM PDT