What is a conservatorship, and do we have it in Australia?

Britney Spears

Britney Spears and a legal blog are not things that usually go hand in hand, however the high-profile celebrity has been popping up on our social media feeds recently thanks to the controversy surrounding her grinding conservatorship.

What is a conservatorship?

A conservatorship is an American legal concept granted by a Court for individuals who are unable to make their own decisions.

Britney’s conservatorship was split into two parts: one for her financial affairs, and the other for her as a person. It was in place from 2008 until 2021, and Britney’s father was appointed under the conservatorship. Court records indicate that this gave him control over many aspects of her life, from the people she dated to the colour of her kitchen cabinets.

Britney has been very vocal in her criticism of her parents. She blames them for ruining her life and described their conduct in Court as abusive.

Does such a thing exist in Australia?

It’s hard to believe that such a concept could exist outside of America, particularly for someone who, as members of the #freebritney movement would unequivocally agree, seemingly had capacity to make decisions for herself.

A similar construct does, however, exist in New South Wales. If someone is lacking in legal capacity and they do not have Estate Planning documents, then an application can be made to the Guardianship division of NCAT to appoint a financial manager and/or guardian. A financial manager looks after legal and financial affairs, and a guardian makes decisions in relation to healthcare and lifestyle matters.

NCAT will only make an Order if the person has decision-making disabilities and is unable to manage their affairs themselves. This would require any applicant, for an Order, to provide very clear and compelling medical evidence that the individual is unable to look after their own affairs.

It’s hard to see how a high-profile case like Britney’s could be applicable to everyday normal life, but her matter does show the importance of organising your Estate Planning and appointing people you trust to look after your affairs. People you know won’t abuse their position of power and will ultimately act in a way that is solely in your best interests.

What is Estate Planning?

Estate Planning essentially involves setting up documents which ensure that:

  1. When you pass away, your loved ones are provided for and your assets are distributed according to your wishes, and 
  2. Appropriate people are appointed to manage both your financial and health affairs, in the event that you lose the capacity to make important decisions for yourself.

These documents are: your Will, Power of Attorney and Appointment of Enduring Guardian.  

A Will is a document that outlines how your assets are distributed after you pass away.

A Power of Attorney is a document which enables you to appoint a person to make financial and legal decision on your behalf.  Nominating an Attorney gives you peace of mind knowing that someone you trust will be able to make important financial and legal decisions for you when you are unable to make them yourself.

An Appointment of Enduring Guardianship is a document which appoints someone to make decisions on your behalf, when you are unable to do so yourself, in relation to health care and lifestyle matters.

If you would like to speak with one of our friendly Estate Planning lawyers to discuss your own affairs, please Contact Us on (02) 4943 3988. We have years of experience helping people throughout the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Hunter region.

This blog was written by Senior Associate,
 Liz McIntyre
Liz practises in the areas of Family Law, Wills & Estate Planning,
Deceased Estates, Wills disputes and Conveyancing

Estate PlanningEstates

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