Whether you are a fan of the pop princess Britney Spears or managed to avoid the pink fluffy pens and pigtails phase of the late 90s, the current stories emerging from the conservatorship case of Ms Spears, has caught the attention of thousands worldwide. The thought that a person can be so closely controlled is causing outrage, especially over a woman’s bodily autonomy.
But many are also questioning what a “conservatorship” actually is and whether this could be done to any person.
There are different rules in the US compared to the UK, however here is a quick rundown of what a conservatorship is, known here as a ‘deputyship’, and how it may be used.
Could someone have complete control of me here in the UK?
In the UK, when a person is deemed to not have mental capacity, whereby they are unable to make decisions for themselves, a deputyship will be required so that a ‘deputy’ can be appointed to help manage the affairs of the person who is unable to.
The Court of Protection will appoint a deputy and from that point, the deputy will have the authority to make decisions on behalf of that person, either in respect to their property and financial affairs. Health & Welfare deputyship applications are very difficult to obtain, and usually only made as a last resort and in relation to very specific decisions, rather than allowing an ongoing power to make decisions.
Any person can apply to be a deputy provided they are over 18, however they are usually friends or family. To do so they will need to make an application to the Court of Protection and pay a fee upwards of £365, depending on what type of deputyship is required and whether a hearing is needed. There are also annual fees depending on the level of supervision required. It can be a costly and time-consuming process.
If a person becomes incapacitated, the Court of Protection can appoint a specialist deputy from a list of approved legal firms or charities if there is no one available or willing to apply for the position. In these cases, the deputy will be supervised by the Office of the Public Guardian.
Once a person has been appointed, they will have only the powers to act that are in the court order, which may range from paying bills to the ability to sell property or make medical decisions, however each decision must be made in the best interest of the person they are acting for, and within rules set by the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
Unlike the Britney Spear’s case, it is highly unlikely that the court will order such power as to over someone’s reproductive rights, right to marry or control over medication, without the input of the person it will be affecting.
Now, you may think that this is something that will never affect you, however many people in the UK each year, require a person to act on their behalf. For example, it is estimated that one in 14 people over 65 in the UK will develop dementia. When this happens, you will need someone to look after your affairs, both financially and personally, and rather than have a stranger do so, who would not know your preferences or opinions, you can act to ensure those you trust are appointed.
Protecting your own interests
A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) can be registered prior to any mental capacity issues, ensuring that should the worst happen, you have a person available immediately to stand in your corner and help with any of your affairs, even if it is only temporarily. This could be something as simple as ensuring bills are paid, or that your preferred medical procedures are followed.
If you do not have an LPA registered, then your family will need to apply for a deputyship, as I have explained above, at great expense and time, which could mean decisions are being made by those who do not know you, or your financial affairs in limbo until a deputy has been appointed. This is particularly important if you have family or employees who rely on you financially.
If you would like to talk to us about how you can protect yourself and your family by registering an LPA, please get in contact and we will be more than happy to discuss your options.