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For those of you living under a rock, former teenage pop-star Britney Spears has been under a court-imposed conservatorship (this would be called a guardianship in NC) for the past 12 years after an apparent psychological breakdown. Her father petitioned a court that Britney was incompetent and he should temporarily take control over her personal and financial decisions. Now, based on the California law surrounding conservatorships, Ms. Spears is struggling under the legal system rules to prove she is healthy enough to remove the conservatorship.

Proper estate planning documents can prevent the court from getting involved in a private, heartbreaking family matter.

With HIPAA, the healthcare privacy law, a doctor cannot talk to the parents of a young adult (college student) without the patient's consent.

Once a person turns 18, they should have:

  • Power of Attorney, which names someone to manage their financial affairs if they can’t

  • Health Care Power of Attorney, which names someone to make healthcare decisions if they can’t

  • Advance Directive, which is known as a “living will” and sets forth what kind of treatments to give or withhold at end of life

  • HIPAA Release, which allows medical providers to talk to the person named in your power of attorney or health care power of attorney.

As difficult as it is to discuss these matters, it is worse if no documents are in place to allow the family to participate in the care of an injured or ill family member. As the #FreeBritney saga shows, having to rely on the courts takes personal decisions out of the family’s hands, is unwieldy, expensive and slow, and has many unintended consequences.

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