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Will Conservatorship Work for Amanda Bynes?

For months, Amanda Bynes has been like a runaway train charging out-of-control down the tracks.  Multiple arrests … bizarre behavior … friends begging for someone to help her.  Many people feared a dramatic crash and fiery explosion.  Amanda Bynes July

A much smaller fire may have paved the way for her to get the help she obviously needs.  Last week it was reported by multiple outlets, such as the New York Daily News, that Amanda Bynes set her pants on fire and accidentally doused her pet Pomeranian with gasoline in the driveway of an unsuspecting elderly woman.  She reportedly fled the scene, tried to wash the dog off at a convenience store, and fled again.  Bynes was picked up by authorities, who had her committed to a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization.

This latest incident has given her parents the impetus to file for conservatorship over her.  They filed last week, and had their first court hearing Friday morning.

Many people think it’s about time.  But filing for guardianship or conservatorship over a loved one is never an easy choice.  These are onerous court proceedings, through which someone loses the right to make even basic decisions, like where to live, what to spend money on, and who to spend time with.  Normally, they are reserved for elderly people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, or those with developmental disabilities.  They should never be undertaken lightly, especially for a younger adult.

Of course, Amanda Bynes’ situation is far from normal.  In fact, we wrote in early May that she was a good candidate for a guardianship or conservatorship court proceeding, even then.

Some states call these court proceedings either guardianship, conservatorship, or use both terms.  New York, where Bynes normally resides, calls them guardianship proceedings.

However, Bynes’ most recent troubles occurred in California, where her parents live.  Because she is located in that state, California’s law applies to this case rather than New York’s.  (California, by the way, uses the term conservatorship, unlike New York.)

Under California law, the legal test is a little different than in New York.  For a conservator of the person to be appointed — i.e., someone (such as her parents) to be able to take over her non-financial decisions — they have to prove she is “unable to provide properly for her personal needs for physical health, food, clothing, or shelter.”  The fire incident alone seems to meet this test.

There is a separate test for financial decisions.   For that, called a conservator of the estate, her parents will have to prove that  she is “substantially unable to manage her own financial resources or resist fraud or undue influence.”

Bynes’ demonstrations of poor judgment with repeated run-ins with the law, apparent abuse of alcohol and/or drugs, and her general erratic behavior may be enough to meet this standard too, but more likely her parents would have to show specific instances of financial mismanagement to qualify for this.

So will their attempts to protect Amanda Bynes through conservatorship work?

It’s no slam dunk.  Already, the judge today denied their request for a temporary conservatorship, instead ruling that the psychiatric hospitalization was enough to protect her until a full court hearing on the conservatorship request could be held.  That court hearing is scheduled for August 9th.  In the meantime, the court, as is standard in cases like this, appointed an attorney for Bynes and wants to see the results of her medical and psychiatric evaluations before coming to a decision.

Bynes and her attorney have already started to fight back.  While a different judge ruled on Thursday that her 72-hour psychiatric hold would be extended for 14 days, Bynes’ lawyer scheduled a court hearing for later asking to have that rescinded.  While that effort was not successful, clearly Bynes is planning to contest the conservatorship.

The key for both court proceedings will be what Amanda Bynes’ doctors say about her condition and the risks that her condition posses.  Reportedly, her parents believe she suffers from some form of schizophrenia or other mental disorder, which would certainly help their cause.

If the doctors say that Amanda Bynes needs a conservatorship, then the judge would likely grant one on August 9th.  If not, then the judge would likely deny the request, at least if he felt that Bynes was taking other steps to get the help she needs.

So, yes, depending on what the doctors say, this approach can work and her parents may successfully obtain conservatorship.  The notable example, of course, is Britney Spears.

And, as with Britney Spears, the appointment of a conservator would not end the story.  Then the question would become:  How long should it continue?  It’s been more than five years for Spears, and she reportedly wants it to end.  But, there is no doubt that the conservatorship process saved not only Spears’ career, but maybe even her life as well.

Amanda Bynes’ parents hope that the process works as well for her.

By Danielle and Andrew Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!  For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click here to subscribe to The Trial & Heirs Update.  You can “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

For legal help in Michigan, visit Danielle and Andy's law firm.