After ‘FreeBritney’, California will limit guardianships


California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday signed a bill into law limiting guardianships that grant people legal guardianship, a move that comes after Britney Spears’ guardianship case garnered national attention amid his attempts to regain control of his finances and livelihood.

The new law, authored by Democratic Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, will require judges to document all alternatives to guardianship before granting it. It aligns with similar legislation adopted in other states, after a push from advocates. In a statement, Newsom, a Democrat, said the state is committed to protecting the rights of Californians with disabilities.

People who are deemed unable to make certain life decisions for themselves may be placed in conservatorships in which a court-appointed guardian controls their finances and other critical aspects of their life, sometimes without their consent. In most cases, they involve people with intellectual or developmental disabilities or people with age-related problems, such as dementia.

Advocacy groups contend that people like Spears, who was under conservatorship for nearly 14 years, can be trapped in a system that removes their civil rights and ability to defend themselves.

“This measure is an important step in empowering Californians with disabilities to get the support they need to take care of themselves and their finances, while remaining in control of their lives to the greatest extent possible,” Newsom wrote in a signed statement. , calling the new law a “transformative reform to protect the self-determination of all Californians.”

Spears, the pop singer and Mississippi native who has publicly struggled with her mental health, ended up at the center of a widespread .FreeBritney campaign aimed at re-giving the pop singer authority over her medical, personal and financial decisions. She alleged that she became a victim of misconduct at the hands of her father, James Spears, who was her guardian.

Fans and advocates rallied online and in person to draw attention to Spears’ situation. Documentaries from The New York Times and Netflix on the effects of Spears’ conservatorship brought new attention to the case and the conservatorship process in general. She was a 26-year-old new mother who had several public mental health issues during the height of her career in 2008, when her father filed for guardianship of her, initially on a temporary basis.

A Los Angeles judge ended Spears’ conservatorship last year, a victory followed by legislative proposals to protect wards’ rights and efforts to make it harder for people to end up in one.

Maienschein, who represents parts of San Diego, thanked the governor in a statement, stressing the importance of ensuring the autonomy of people with disabilities.

The new law will give potential wards preference in selecting a conservator and make it easier to finalize probate guardianships.

The disability rights organization Disability Voices United referred to the news of Newsom’s decision as historic.

“This law affirms that guardianships should be rare and a last resort,” the group wrote. “The default should be that people with disabilities retain their rights and get support when they need it.”


Sophie Austin is a staff member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.

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