Joni Mitchell and Conservatorship

Beloved singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell was found unconscious in her Los Angeles home on March 31, having suffered a brain aneurysm. After Mitchell spent more than a month in the hospital, her longtime friend Leslie Morris was appointed her conservator to make medical decisions for her while she recovers. As fans wish Mitchell a full recovery, they may also be wondering, “What is a conservator?”

A conservator or adult guardian is appointed by the court to make certain decisions on behalf of an adult who has become unable to make such decisions on his or her own, due to a physical or mental condition, or advanced age. The court may place certain limits on the guardianship or conservatorship. For instance, the court in Los Angeles granted Morris control only over Mitchell’s medical care, in the absence of the 24-hour care she received in the hospital. A court may also grant a conservator or guardian control over a disabled person’s financial affairs or other aspects of his or her life, such as whether the person should reside at home or in a nursing facility.

A conservator or guardian can be essential in protecting the well-being of a person who has become unable to make his or her own decisions. A conservator or guardian can pay bills for the incapacitated person, prevent financial abuse, prevent self-neglect, and advocate for the person’s health.

The court may appoint a conservator or guardian in response to a petition submitted to the court. For example, in New York, a guardianship proceeding is brought under Article 81 of the Mental Hygiene Law. However, guardianship is considered a drastic remedy, and the court is required to consider less restrictive alternatives, such as home health aides, representative payees and other solutions that may meet the person’s needs without the appointment of a guardian.

In many cases, if a durable power of attorney or health care proxy has been appointed before the person becomes incapacitated, then guardianship proceedings are unlikely to be necessary. This is one reason why people planning their estate should give such appointments careful consideration.

 

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