Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
A: In theory, nothing is different. Most states call the process guardianship. In Britney Spears case in California, for example, it was called conservatorship. Both names refer to the same court-instigated system that begins with declaring the targeted person as an “incapacitated ward-of- the-court,” confiscation of all their money and property, and termination of their civil rights.
A: Traditionally, once a citizen is declared incapacitated—i.e., unable to care for themselves under the eyes of the law—they are not allowed to (among other things) hire their own lawyer, sign a contract, spend their own money, freely travel, marry or vote in elections. This situation has been dubbed as “being dead in the eyes of the law.” In recent years, a handful of states, California, Minnesota and Nevada for example, have established specific systems to insure wards or potential wards have the right to choose their own legal representation. Minnesota’s Bill of Rights For Persons Subject to Guardianship or Conservatorship also restores the right to vote to qualifying wards.
A: Guardians are appointed by a judge to take care of the ward’s personal and medical needs. They arrange home or assisted living care for the ward, hire the necessary aids to help, make medical appointments, arrange for outings, open the ward’s mail, take phone calls from the family, etc. A conservator is appointed to handle a ward’s finances, including paying bills, monitoring investments, filing tax returns, obtaining appraisals of a ward’s property (in case it is necessary to sell some to help pay bills) and filing an annual report to the court explaining where the money went. In some cases, the guardian will be named as a Plenary Guardian which means they also take on the role of conservator. (See Chapter 3 - The Players - for a complete list of various court appointees)
A: It’s a mishmash. There is no one uniform set of rules governing the background, education or specific qualifications for someone seeking to become a guardian. Some states require criminal and credit background checks, but not all. Some states require a high school diploma, but not all. Several states require guardians to be certified, but the meaning of certification varies from state to state and a few hours of online training can be sufficient. As of 2023, only three states—Alaska, California and Nevada—require guardians to be licensed. In all other states a hairdresser of masseuse must pass a far more stringent set of licensing requirements than a guardian who, quite literally, takes control of another person’s life.
A: It depends on the county, state, and what the Judge allows. The hourly rate for a for-profit guardian was found to be as low as $150.00 and as high as $600.00. Conservators tend to be more expensive since they are usually licensed attorneys or Certified Public Accountants. Their hourly rate range was approximately $300.00 to $600.00 but could be higher. The money these court appointees earn comes directly from the ward’s confiscated estate.
A: Yes, as long as the judge agrees with their appointee’s reasoning. If someone is suspected of trying to exploit the ward, either financially, physically or emotionally, the guardian may decide that person can no longer be in contact with the ward. A frequent family complaint was discovered, however, which casts doubt on the need for some visitation bans and causes some to believe the court appointees ban visitors so as to firmly control the ward and their money. Loved ones who take issue with a guardian or conservator’s actions have been summarily denied visits for no other reason than they “upset” the ward. This, of course, can leave the conscripted person alone with only stranger caretakers for companionship.
A: You can try, but realize police are tasked with upholding criminal law and guardianships/conservatorships are considered civil cases. You will likely be told police are powerless in the face of an existing court order. In addition, all law enforcement types—from local police and sheriff’s departments to District Attorney and State’s Attorney offices—are routinely reluctant to challenge a sitting judge for obvious political reasons.
A: Kidnapping charges have been successfully filed against family members who removed wards from the guardian or conservator’s control. To go against the court appointee’s plan for the ward is considered to be a felony in many states. (See chapter 14 – Desperate Is as Desperate Does – for just such a case.)
A: Yes. But understand that do that the family is best served if they hire an attorney to speak for them in court. That costs money, and chances for success are slim as they will be appearing before the very same judge who appointed the guardian/conservator in the first place. Also understand that the court appointee will fight removal, and he or she has the right to hire their own attorney to represent them. They will both be paid with the ward’s money. If you fight you will be diminishing your loved one’s bank account. Many relatives have come to believe the guardian relished the courtroom battle because it meant they could charge more hourly fees for preparing for court and appearing in court.
A: These are state run systems. There are no federal laws specifically governing how guardianships and/or conservatorships are to be conducted.
A: Yes, but not all judges have been schooled in the benefits of programs like Supported Decision-Making (SDM) and other less restrictive methods. This wouldn’t be suitable for every ward but, in short, SDM is a simple program where at-risk citizens work with friends, family members and professionals who help them understand their situation and choices and help them reach their own informed decision. As Jonathan Martinis, an attorney who supports the idea said, “Have you ever asked a doctor to talk to you ‘in plain English?’ Or gone to an accountant to help with your taxes? Or asked a mechanic to explain why you need repairs? When you do that … you’re using Supported Decision-Making.” (See chapter 17 – Possible Solutions to Improve the System - for a full description of SDM and other alternative programs.)
A: They can last until the ward’s death. Some wards who were conscripted following a stroke, traumatic brain injury or temporary mental health issue have fully recovered yet still cannot escape court control. It is entirely up to the judge to determine when to establish and when to terminate a guardianship. Research for the book indicted it is rare for a judge to reverse their original ruling.