New House Bill aims to prevent conservatorship abuse
ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - A bill introduced in the United States House of Representatives aims to help protect Americans in guardianships and conservatorships from abuse and exploitation.
This comes as Britney Spears’s highly publicized legal battle has taken over the celebrity spotlight.
The Freedom and Right to Emancipate from Exploitation Act, introduced last week, would allow people bound by conservatorships or guardianships to petition to replace their court-appointed guardians or conservators without having to prove abuse.
“You can say hold on a second, I don’t trust a family member or whoever has been appointed by the court to manage my affairs, you get an alternative choice that way that the court has to consider.”
Roanoke attorney Devon Slovensky has represented people on both sides of this relationship in Virginia.
Across the commonwealth, it’s currently required to prove that a person is unable to manage their affairs, and is without the mental capacity to make those decisions.
“On top of that you have to show that the guardianship or conservatorship is the least restrictive means to essentially limit a person’s rights,” says Slovensky. “You have a right to go back and ask a judge and a jury to decide, does this need to go on? And we do occasionally see guardianships ended, I was involved in one last year where someone was able to regain their capacity.”
Slovensky says the media attention on Spears in no doubt motivated writing the potential legislation.
“It is clear from the bill proposed by Christ that they’re talking about Britney Spears, they’re talking about alleged guardianship abuse in Florida,” explains Slovensky, who says Spears’s conservatorship may play out very differently in Virginia.
“Even if a guardianship were ever necessary, what are the least restrictive means? What kind of influence should she be having over the contracts that are being entered into on her behalf? Where’s her role at the table? Where does her wants and needs get considered when people are dealing with tour schedules and all of that, she should certainly have input on.”
The bill, also known as the FREE act, would assign an independent caseworker to monitor for signs of abuse or neglect, require parties to disclose financial conflicts of interest, and require states to submit annual reports on those legal relationships within their jurisdiction.
“Appointing someone who isn’t a member of the family, can actually help reduce a lot of familial tension and perhaps reestablish trust within the family,” adds Slovensky.
The bill in the house of representatives has bipartisan support.
A separate, similar bill has been introduced in Virginia’s house of delegates.
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