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The story of Britney Spears has brought Conservatorship under the spotlight. But what actually does it entail and do we have anything similar in the UK?

Once upon a time, Britney Spears was the cute kid in the Disney club. She grew into the Pop Princess and then, in 2008, became the out-of-control superstar whose father was appointed by the Court to control all of her finances.

It was impossible to ignore the #FreeBritney campaign, which highlighted the singer’s distress at having her father control her finances. It also brought attention to the American system of Conservatorship, which allowed all aspects of her life to be subject to controls and limits imposed by others.

What is a Conservatorship and when is it used?

A Conservatorship is the appointment, by the courts, of a legal guardian to manage another person’s affairs. It is put in place when someone is deemed incapable of managing on their own and making their own decisions.

Jamie Spears, Britney’s father, was appointed by a US court as Britney’s Conservator back in 2008 following her infamous breakdown. Since then, Britney has not had full control of her own financial and personal affairs. She recently spoke out about the “abusive” Conservatorship, which she alleges has, for the worse, controlled all aspects of her life, from her career to her methods of contraception.

Do we have Conservatorship in the UK?

“Conservatorship” is not a frame that we adopt in England and Wales but it does act in a very similar way to a “Deputyship”.

Much like Britney’s contested Conservatorship, a Deputyship has two types: one for property and financial affairs, and another for matters relating to health and welfare.

What is a Deputyship?

In England and Wales, you can apply to be appointed as someone’s Deputy if they lack the mental capacity to manage their own financial decisions or to make their own decisions regarding their health and welfare.

The application for the appointment of a Deputy is heard in the Court of Protection, which specialises in cases involving mental capacity.

A Deputy will only be appointed when someone is deemed as lacking mental capacity to manage their own affairs and when nobody else is already authorised to manage their affairs for them (for example, under a Power of Attorney).

Applying to become a Deputy

To apply to become someone’s Deputy, you will need to send the Court all the relevant information they need. This includes:

  • Details of the finances which will need to be managed;
  • Decisions that are likely to need to be made; and
  • Evidence from a suitably qualified professional that the person (referred to the Patient) lacks the mental capacity to make those decisions themselves.

A Deputy can be a family member or friend, or a Professional Deputy.

Professional Deputies are most often seen when individuals have very complex cases or high value cases that require specialised management, but they can also be appointed where the relationships within a family are likely to be put under pressure by the Deputyship. In those cases, it is better to have someone neutral.

Key points to consider

The person who is deemed as lacking capacity should be consulted, if possible, in relation to the appointment of the Deputy. However, a Deputyship is not like a Power of Attorney, where the person chooses for themselves who they want to appoint.

Because of the level of control that a Deputy has, and because – unlike a Power of Attorney – the person has not expressly agreed to the Deputy having such control, the Court of Protection has very strict rules surrounding Deputies and how they must act when managing the protected person’s affairs. This includes a requirement to put insurance in place and submit annual reports to the Office of the Public Guardian.

If a Deputy does not comply with directions of the Court of Protection or the Office of the Public Guardian, it is possible they will be removed and another suitable Deputy appointed.

If you have any concerns about actions being taken by a Deputy, or Attorney, a specialist lawyer will be able to assist you and provide advice on the steps you can take to address those concerns.

Please get in touch with our Dispute Resolution team if you’re concerned.