Amanda Bynes Case Highlights Conservatorships

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 | 7:30 pm


Where is Amanda Bynes? The Hollywood child star and fashion designer seems to have been suffering from severe mental health issues and her concerned parents and doctors seek to regain control of her legal, medical and fiscal decisions through another conservatorship. Placed under a 5150* hold on Friday, October 10th, Bynes is still receiving treatment in Pasadena at Las Encinas.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a starlet face an unfortunate break down. In the case of Britney Spears back in 2008, the situation was extreme enough that her parents sought and were eventually granted a conservatorship. In fact, that conservatorship still stands today.

While it might be easy for outsiders to make light of Bynes’ position for the sake of entertainment, Alexandra Smyser of Pasadena-based Law Offices of Donald P. Schweitzer breaks down the real and very serious implications of a conservatorship.

After a string of arrests and reportedly dangerous behavior beginning in 2012, Bynes’ mother gained conservatorship of her daughter in August of 2013.

“Conservatorships are difficult,” explains Smyser. “You are asking the court to take someone’s civil rights away, and the court takes that very seriously. A conservatorship is only established if it is absolutely necessary to protect the person and the estate of the proposed conservatee.”

Indeed, the implications are hefty. A conservator is given the legal authority to make decisions about the conservatee’s medical care, and is also given the authority to manage the conservatee’s assets for the conservatee’s benefit.

“And because of the authority that is granted, you can see how conservatorships can be ripe for abuse,” Smyser says. To protect the conservator’s estate a bond is issued. The bond is an insurance policy that will pay the conservatee and his or her creditors if the conservator misuses or steals the conservatee’s money. Of course, this is a yearly expense that is borne by the conservatee’s estate. Also, the court requires an accounting every other year of the conservatee’s assets. The accounting must be in a specific format to comply with the probate code which requires an attorney familiar with conservatorships. The conservator must show that he is using the funds solely for the benefit of the conservatee.

All of this means additional expense to the estate and the court’s involvement into what previously were intimate family matters.

Even in light of the burdens of a conservatorship, sometimes it is simply the only way for a family to protect their loved one who has decreasing mental capacity, like Amanda Bynes. Her recent behavior–an arrest for DUI and an apparent shoplifting incident followed by some bizarre Tweets—all occurred immediately after her parents’ temporary conservatorship was terminated. Bynes’s situation seems to call for an extreme intervention.

“It is not an easy decision to make, but sometimes that is the only option when the health and safety of a family member is at risk,” says Smyser. “I encourage families to explore every avenue possible before pursuing a conservatorship. Perhaps the person will voluntarily submit to help or rehab. It may be as simple as executing the proper estate planning documents, or sometimes the 5150 is enough to make a difference in a person’s behavior. But, in severe situations, a conservatorship is the only answer.”

Of course, Smyser reminds us, if all parties are “moving in the right direction” toward treatment, a conservatorship can always be terminated. Hopefully soon we’ll be filing that report for Bynes. *5150 refers to California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 5150 which allows a peace officer or mental health professional to place an individual who is a danger to himself or others as a result of a mental health disorder on a 72 hour, involuntary hold in a psychiatric facility for assessment, evaluation and intervention.

Alexandra SmyserAlexandra Smyser is an Associate Attorney at the Law Offices of Donald P Schweitzer in Pasadena, Ca. She handles all areas of Estate Planning including trusts, wills, probates, general and limited conservatorships, and special needs trusts. For more information on estate planning contact Ms. Smyser at (626) 683-8113 or visit




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