The social media hashtag #FreeBritney has been in the news recently. The hashtag is part of a campaign to release the singer Britney Spears from the legal situation where her father has power over her financial affairs. A court awarded him this when she was judged mentally incapable of making decisions for herself due to several breakdowns.

While some cases can be contentious, guardianship plays a vital role in the life of those who cannot make decisions for themselves due to their age or mental illness. There are some reasons to appoint a guardian:

  • Guardianship of a child: Parents often specify a guardian for their children in their estate plan. It clarifies who they want to bring up their children should they die before the children are legally adults.
  • Special needs guardianship: A child with special needs may need extra help beyond turning 18. Again, a parent may specify this when estate planning, in case they are no longer around to fulfill that role.
  • Legal guardianship or conservatorship: Children often file for this when their parents get older and suffer from dementia. They can use it to control their parent’s financial affairs when judged that the parent is no longer capable of doing it themselves. It can reduce the risk that their parent is taken advantage of by an unscrupulous individual or organization who persuades them to pull out their checkbook.

Guardianships and conservatorships are not a carte blanche for someone to do as they wish. A court will stipulate the limit of their power. Or, if you are naming one in your estate plan, you can also specify the scope of their authority. If you have not chosen someone to act as a guardian, and one is needed, a judge will decide for you. However, it is best if you choose one yourself to get the best person for the job.