A California Conservatorship: the Sequel from Austin Estate Planning Attorney Elizabeth Ziegler

Amanda Bynes

What a busy few years it’s been for the entertainment industry and the probate courts of California! We are, of course, referring to the recent lifting of conservatorships from such stars as Britney Spears and now Amanda Bynes. In 2021, Britney Spear’s conservatorship ended after thirteen years and a massive online campaign. Now earlier this month, Amanda Bynes’ conservatorship was also terminated after nine years. With Bynes’ own case coming so hard on the heels of Spears’ news, there have been many parallels and comparisons drawn between the two women’s experience.

A Quick Conservatorship / Guardianship Refresher

To quickly recap the concept of a conservatorship (known in Texas as guardianship), this is when someone (a Guardian) is appointed to care for either the daily life (Guardian of the Person) or just the finances (Guardian of the Estate) of someone in need of help (the Ward). Sometimes guardianships can last the remainder of the ward’s life, but this isn’t automatically true. The court is always hopeful a ward can recover capacity and resume managing their own affairs.

Amanda Bynes’ Conservatorship: Timeline

Many of us remember Bynes from projects such as Nickelodeon’s All That or the Amanda Show, or such film’s as Easy-A and She’s the Man. But were also saddened by her announced break from acting in 2010, and worried over her subsequent problems with substance abuse and mental health issues. After Bynes left acting, her behavior often fluctuated worryingly, and she was eventually placed under guardianship.

  • 2014 – Due to mounting concerns regarding her mental health and personal well-being, Bynes’ parents initiated guardianship proceedings. The court granted Bynes’ parents guardianship over her person and her estate.
  • 2017 – The court terminated the guardianship of Bynes’ estate when her assets were placed in a trust for her benefit, with her father named as trustee.
  • 2018 – The guardianship of Bynes’ person was extended into 2020, with the understanding the guardianship would remain in place until it was no longer “useful” to her.
  • 2022 – In March, the judge in Ventura County Superior Court determined that a guardianship was no longer required.

Like with Britney, this means Bynes will now have control over things like determining where she’ll live, getting married, and having a driver’s license. Due to the fact her financial guardianship ended in 2017, when her assets were placed in a trust, Bynes’ finances will likely continue to be held and managed by her trust on her behalf.

These Look So Similar

Comparing the Conservatorships

With this latest conservatorship proceedings coming so quickly after the Britney Spears news, it’s easy to compare and draw parallels between the two cases. In both instances, family members stepped in to act on behalf of a loved one who needed help. And in both cases, the court appointed those people it believed had each woman’s best interest in mind (in Britney’s case her father, and in Amanda’s case both of her parents). Both women spent large portions of their life under the strict supervision of their guardians. With Bynes’ guardianship totaling nine years and Spears’ taking thirteen. One other major similarity is that each woman has had her assets placed into a trust for her benefit, to be managed by a trustee.

Seen in Contrast

The major difference between the two cases is the intended length of the guardianship, and the family reactions to each.

While it’s never possible to say definitely, it appears the Bynes’ guardianship was meant to last until Amanda had regained capacity (meaning she had regained the ability to manage her day-to-day affairs). The guardianship was set to end as soon as the court was satisfied she had met this goal. Contrast that with the Spears’ guardianship, it’s impossible to say how long Britney’s guardianship would have lasted without the online organization of her fans, and Britney’s own bid for freedom.

Following on the heels of Bynes’ March 22nd, 2022 hearing, most press coverage has highlighted that Bynes’ mother (the guardian of her person) was in agreement about ending the guardianship. She also expressed how excited and proud she was of her daughter.  This is in somewhat sharp contrast to the Spears case, where the ending of the case was much more contentious between Britney and her father. Unfortunately the Spears case continues to generate legal drama, as the parties fight over legal fees and other allegations.

It’s Only Forever, Not Long At All

Guardianship, whether limited or broad, doesn’t need to last forever. Especially with broad guardianship (the kind where you lose the right to make pretty basic life choices) being so invasive. Court’s are always hopeful a ward will regain their capacity and can resume independent life. Bynes’ own case is a great example of the system working to protect someone when they needed the help, and then stepping back when the ward no longer needs protection or assistance.

Many courts throughout the country are hesitant to initiate a broad guardianship in the first place, due to the loss of rights for wards like Bynes and Spears, and have put less drastic options in place. These options include simply placing the ward’s assets under guardianship or into a trust. Texas is also one of only two states to have a Supported Decision-Making Agreement. In this agreement a person who may need assistance retains their independence and decision-making abilities, but they designate a trusted individual (like a friend or family member) to help them understand and make important medical and financial decisions.

With the recent attention drawn to California’s guardianship infrastructure, many are pushing California to adopt the option as an alternative.

Final Thoughts

It’s never a fun time to contemplate a time when you might need a guardian to care for you completely, or to think about taking on that kind of responsibility for your loved ones. However, as we’ve seen, with both Amanda Bynes and Britney Spears, guardianship doesn’t have to last forever. For Texas residents conservatorship/guardianship doesn’t have to be draconian. If you have a never crafted an estate plan, or if you have one and need to update trusted helpers, like guardians, give us a call. Nielsen Law PLLC provides family-focused estate planning to individuals, families, as well as blended families in Austin, Round Rock, Cedar Park, and the Central Texas area.  For more information and to learn about our firm, please contact us.