May 21st, 2024

Here’s what to know about conservatorships and how Brian Wilson’s case evolved


By Stefanie Dazio And Andrew Dalton, The Associated Press on May 10, 2024.

FILE - Musician Brian Wilson, left, and his wife Melinda Ledbetter Wilson arrive at the 55th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, in Los Angeles. A judge found Thursday that Beach Boys founder and music luminary Brian Wilson should be in a court conservatorship to manage his personal and medical decisions because of what his doctor calls a "major neurocognitive disorder." (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A judge put Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson under a court conservatorship to oversee his personal and medical affairs after the legendary songwriter’s doctor reported that he has a major neurocognitive disorder.

The judge on Thursday appointed two longtime Wilson representatives, publicist Jean Sievers and manager LeeAnn Hard, as his conservators. There were no significant objections raised.

Wilson, 81, is the latest celebrity to be involved in a conservatorship case. Others include Amanda Bynes, the young actor who was placed under her parents’ control for nine years, and Casey Kasem, the radio and TV personality whose conservatorship became part of a fierce fight between his wife and adult children before his death in 2014. Music legend Joni Mitchell was put under a temporary conservatorship after a 2015 a brain aneurysm, before she made a strong recovery.

Most famous was the controversial conservatorship of Britney Spears, which ended in 2021 after nearly 14 years. The #FreeBritney campaign helped garner national attention amid the popstar’s attempts to regain control over her finances and livelihood. She alleged that she had been mistreated by her father, who was her conservator. James Spears and his attorneys argued that she was especially susceptible to people who want to take advantage of her fame and fortune.

Here’s a look at how conservatorships operate, what led to Wilson’s case, and the #FreeBritney impact:

WHAT DOES CONSERVATORSHIP MEAN?

When a person is considered to have a severely diminished mental capacity, a court can step in and grant others the power to make financial decisions and major life choices for them, sometimes without their consent. They most often involve people with developmental or intellectual disabilities, or those with age-related issues such as dementia.

California law says a conservatorship, called a guardianship in some states, is justified for a “person who is unable to provide properly for his or her personal needs for physical health, food, clothing, or shelter,” or for someone who is “substantially unable to manage his or her own financial resources or resist fraud or undue influence.”

The conservator may be a family member, a close friend or a court-appointed professional. They may control either a person’s life decisions, their financial decisions, or both.

Although Spears’ case brought attention – much of it negative – to conservatorships, Wilson’s is closer to the typical use of a conservatorship, which very often are installed for older people going through irreversible mental decline.

Although conservatorship can always be dissolved by the court, it’s rare that a person achieves their own release from one – as Spears essentially did.

In another high-profile case, Cher is asking the court put one of her sons into a conservatorship controlling his money. The award-winning singer and actor argued in a petition that 47-year-old Elijah Blue Allman’s large payments from the trust of his late father, rocker Gregg Allman, are putting him in danger because of his struggles with mental health and substance abuse.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jessica A. Uzcategui was not convinced that a conservatorship was urgently needed and in January declined the petition for a temporary one. She is still considering a larger, long-term conservatorship and will hear more arguments at a hearing in June, but she indicated that she isn’t inclined to side with Cher.

WHAT LED TO WILSON’S CONSERVATORSHIP?

Wilson, who some have lauded as a musical genius and who wrote or cowrote many of the Beach Boys’ biggest hits, including “Good Vibrations” and “God Only Knows,” struggled with mental health and substance abuse issues that upended his career in the 1960s.

He met his future wife, Melinda Wilson, when he was a customer at a car dealership where she worked in the mid-1980s. At the time, Wilson had for years been under the close supervision of psychologist Dr. Eugene Landy. Melinda and others believed Landy was exploiting and mistreating Wilson, and they feuded with Landy for years before he was barred in 1992 from any contact with Wilson. The couple married in 1995.

Melinda Wilson died unexpectedly early this year. Wilson has credited her with stabilizing his famously troubled life, and she had managed his daily life in recent years.

“Our five children and I are just in tears. We are lost,” Brian Wilson wrote on his website. “Melinda was more than my wife. She was my savior.”

His mental decline and her death led Brian Wilson’s management team to petition the court in February to place him under a conservatorship. The loss of a spouse in such circumstances is a common trigger for such legal arrangements. The petition sought only a conservatorship of Wilson’s person, saying he doesn’t need a conservator over his finances because his assets are in a trust, with manager Hard as a trustee.

A doctor’s declaration said Wilson has a “major neurocognitive disorder,” is taking medication for dementia, and “is unable to properly provide for his own personal needs for physical health, food, clothing, or shelter.”

Wilson can move around with help from a walker and the caregiver, court-appointed attorney Robert Frank Cipriano wrote in a report. He said Wilson has a good sense of who he is, where he is, and when it is, but could not name his children beyond the two who live with him.

In approving the petition, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gus T. May said the evidence shows that Wilson consented to the arrangement and lacks the capacity to make health care decisions.

WHAT IMPACT DID THE #FREEBRITNEY MOVEMENT HAVE ON CONSERVATORSHIPS?

Some fans objected to Spears’ conservatorship soon after it began. But the movement and the #FreeBritney hashtag truly took off in early 2019, when some believed she was being forced into a psychiatric hospital against her will.

The fans pored over her social media posts to extract clues about her wellbeing and protested outside the courthouse at every hearing. Spears’ father and others had long dismissed these fans as conspiracy theorists, but their influence on Spears’ case was undeniable in the end and she credited them for her success.

In 2022, California lawmakers revised the state’s statute to require judges to document all alternatives to a conservatorship before granting one. The update, which took effect last year, gained traction amid the #FreeBritney movement. Advocacy groups contended that people like Spears can become trapped in a system that strips them of their civil rights and the ability to advocate for themselves.

Several other states, including New Jersey, New Mexico and Oregon, have used the attention that Spears and her followers brought to the issue to alter their own conservatorship laws.

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