The Conservatorship of celebrity Amanda Bynes has been in and out of the California probate courts since 2013. Recently, Bynes’ Conservatorship of the Person was extended, while the Conservatorship of the Estate was terminated. Here’s a brief synopsis of how her Conservatorship has played out, and what we can learn from her experience.
Amanda Bynes was a promising child star who dominated her peer teen demographic until her breakdown played out in front of millions on her Twitter feed.
A starring role in the feature film Big Fat Liar, her WB show, What I Like About You, The Amanda Show, a spin-off of All That, showcased her talents making her one of Nickelodeon’s most popular stars. Added to this was her role in Hairspray in 2006 and her feature in Mean Girls. Amanda Bynes seemed to have no way to go but up - even producer Dan Schneider declared, “I’ve seen kids in her position experiment with drugs and be too promiscuous, but Amanda has avoided all that… she’s almost like Marcia Brady in that she’s so clean-cut and wholesome.”
But in 2010 things began to change. Bynes became increasingly active on Twitter, making controversial comments on topics like Hitler and Germany. Two months later she tweeted Rihanna that Chris Brown had beaten her “because she wasn’t pretty enough.” In the same vein she tweeted that she only followed “beautiful people”.
By 2012 Bynes spiraled even further, having a series of car accidents. She was pulled over by a policeman for using her cell phone, then drove away before he could write her a ticket. A month later at 3:00 A.M she damaged a BMW, and when asked to take a breathalyzer test she refused, thereby getting charged with a DUI. In total Bynes had seven accidents that year. But her erratic and dangerous behavior didn’t stop there. In New York city she locked herself in the bathroom of a cupcake store and then was arrested for throwing a bong out the window of her apartment.
It all came to a screeching halt when Bynes started a fire in the driveway of a stranger in Thousand Oaks, possibly dousing her own dog with gasoline. Consequently, she was placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold (called a 5150 in California). Shortly after, Amanda’s parents filed for Conservatorship. One month later she confessed on Twitter to being bipolar and manic depressive.
Amanda Bynes’ family petitioned the court to have Amanda conserved for both her own protection and the protection of her considerable assets. A conservatorship is where a judge appoints one or more individuals to make medical and/or financial decisions on behalf of another.
In order to become the Conservators of both Amanda’s “person” (healthcare) and “estate” (finances), her parents had to submit what’s called a “Petition for Appointment of Probate Conservator” to the Probate Court. In their Petition, her parents state they were “deeply concerned their daughter may hurt herself.”
In order for a judge to grant a Conservatorship, the Petitioner must provide very clear evidence showing the proposed Conservatee cannot take care of herself or her finances. The probate code provides specific guidelines on what constitutes being able to manage one’s self or affairs, and the bar is set very high. The court is very hesitant to take one’s rights away, and will only do so if it is shown to be absolutely necessary. Despite the fact that Bynes had continuously demonstrated she was a danger to herself and others, the path to Conservatorship was far from easy.
Amanda, like other Conservatees whose mental capacity is in a grey area, vehemently opposed the Conservatorship. If a Conservatee, or his or her attorney, states to the Judge that they strongly oppose the Conservatorship, the chances of obtaining it decrease.
Amanda’s Conservatorship Timeline
Amanda’s parents were first able to get Temporary Conservatorship of Amanda in 2013 after she was put on a 72-hour psychiatric hold. A Temporary Conservatorship, sometimes called an “Emergency Conservatorship” will be granted by the court if the Conservators can show an urgent need. In most cases, the temporary conservatorship lasts about 6-8 weeks, until the Conservator can get a hearing in the probate court regarding the General Conservatorship. The court can extend Temporary Conservatorships beyond this period when necessary. In Amanda’s case it appears that the temporary conservatorship was only several weeks, and dependent upon her hospitalizations. When an individual suffers from mental illness as opposed to dementia or Alzheimer’s, it can be much more difficult to obtain and keep a Conservatorship over him or her.
A careful reading of the Court docket of Amanda’s Conservatorship proceedings reveals a glimpse of the complexity and difficulty Bynes’ parents had in obtaining (and maintaining) conservatorship over her. Court records reveal that she and her parents were in and out of Court for the next several years. During that time, Amanda was also placed on multiple psychiatric holds, and displayed erratic behavior through social media posts and rampant spending sprees. In petitioning for Conservatorship of her estate (control over finances), her parents presented evidence to the court that Amanda made large purchases of expensive jewelry and other items for strangers. In addition to spending vast sums of money, Amanda was also caught shoplifting.
In October 2016, Bynes’ conservatorship attorney Nyree Kolanjian stated that , “Because Amanda was doing much better….[her mother] petitioned the court to terminate the conservatorship of the estate.”
While the Conservatorship of the Estate was terminated, the Conservatorship of the Person was extended through 2020.
Because Amanda is not currently hospitalized and appears (from our research at least) to be doing well, it is likely that she agreed to the Conservatorship of the Person being extended. Similarly, celeb Britney Spears is under a Conservatorship and appears to be thriving.
One important aspect to note here is that if all Amanda’s assets were placed in a Trust, there would be no need for a Conservatorship of the Estate. Assets that are held in a Trust are managed by the Trustee, and do not fall within the purvue of a Conservatorship. Thus, whether or not Amanda is “doing much better” she may still not have access to her funds if she is not the Trustee of her trust. Court records do in fact indicate that a trust was set up for her - potentially through a Court process called “Substituted Judgement.”
What can we learn from Bynes’ Conservatorship?
Conservatorships can be a stressful, emotional process, particularly when the proposed Conservatee or other family members oppose the Conservatorship. The course of a Conservatorship is largely dependent upon the individuals involved. Those people include not only the family members, but also the attorneys and the Judge who presides in the Probate court. If you believe there is a chance someone may object to your Conservatorship petition, the attorney you hire is critical. You want an attorney who specializes in litigated Conservatorships in the county where the proposed Conservatee resides. The attorney should also be up front about the potential costs - both financial and emotional - of Conservatorship.
A good Conservatorship attorney will fight for your interests and ensure you are well represented.
A great Conservatorship attorney will zealously represent your interests while always keeping the health and well being of the Conservatee at the forefront of all decisions. A great Conservatorship attorney will also advise you in light of your own well being. I have seen many clients get stuck in protracted litigated Conservatorships that are so financially and emotionally costly that by the end only the attorneys have really “won.”
If you have questions about Conservatorship in Contra Costa County or Alameda County, call our SF East Bay Probate Firm for a consultation at 925-322-1795.