A conservatorship is a court-ordered arrangement that gives one person (or multiple people), called a conservator, legal authority to manage the affairs of another person, known as a conservatee or ward.

Most jurisdictions—recognize two types of conservatorships:

  • A conservatorship of the person, also called a guardianship, authorizes a conservator to manage the personal affairs of the conservatee, including their healthcare and living arrangements.
  • A conservatorship of the estate grants the conservator the authority necessary to supervise the conservatee’s financial affairs, such as managing their money, paying their bills, and in some instances, setting up an estate plan for them.

Conservatees are often children, but they can also be adults who are incapacitated, have developmental or age-related disabilities, or are otherwise deemed by the court to be unable to handle their own financial or personal affairs. A famous example of this is the Britney Spears conservatorship that was set up following her pattern of erratic behavior and placement in a psychiatric hospital for observation. In Spears’s case, her conservatorship was split into two parts—one for her estate and finances and one for her as a person.

A conservatorship may be established following a court petition by a friend or relative asking for the appointment of a conservator. The petition must explain the basis for establishing the proposed conservatorship. In many cases involving adult conservatorship, the petition must indicate that the conservatee is at risk of either injury to their person due to their inability to manage their daily needs or make medical decisions, or that they are at risk of financial exploitation or involuntary depletion of their assets. Following an investigation and a hearing, the court decides whether a conservatorship is warranted.

If a conservatorship is granted, a conservator is named, and their specific powers are set out in a court order. Typically, the court requires that conservators file annual financial accountings or plans for the care of the person, depending on the type of conservatorship.

Britney Spears: Singer’s Conservatorship Case Explained, BBC (Nov. 12, 2021), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-53494405.