Know Your Town: Probate Court Questions & Answers

by Max Rosenberg
Probate Court Judge

Note: The Stratford Crier will be publishing articles highlighting a department agency, commission, or organization that are integral to the Town of Stratford. We start this series by featuring Stratford Probate Court.  Connecticut is divided into 54 probate districts, each of which is presided over by a Judge of Probate who is elected to office for a four-year term. Our Judge of Probate is the Honorable Max L. Rosenberg.

To submit questions regarding Probate Court to the Honorable Max L. Rosenberg email Barbara@StratfordCrier.com

I am Max L. Rosenberg, the Judge of Probate Court for Stratford, District 47.  People often ask me what does a Probate Judge do? And after giving a full account of the authorities and responsibilities of the office, I am often left explaining that a large part of our case load is conservatorship files.  This of course triggers the common question: What is a conservator?

What is a conservator? A conservator is a person appointed by the Probate Court to have the authority to manage a conserved person’s finances and/or personal affairs.  While a conserved person obtains this status by the court determining they are unable or incapable of managing their own financial and/or personal affairs, this does not necessarily mean they are elderly, infirmed, or entirely mentally incapacitated.  Recently, the once famous pop-sensation and Mouseketeer Britney Spears was in the news for having been conserved.

Ms. Spears has been conserved for almost twelve years. One might be asking, why does a 38-year-old pop superstar, a multi-millionaire with a string of platinum-selling records, a former “X Factor” judge and a recently reigning queen of Las Vegas residencies still need a guardian looking after her?

There are two avenues toward conservatorship. Often, conservatorships are voluntary, such as when an infirmed person is seeking the assistance and supervision of someone appointed by the court. Other times, it becomes necessary for a medical facility or family member to file a petition for involuntary conservatorship, either because the potentially conserved person is too mentally incapacitated to comprehend the process, and therefore does not have the capacity to agree to it, or the person has the capacity but disagrees with this process, believing that this results in their perceived “loss” of freedom and authority in their own life.

When Ms. Spears was conserved, it was following a serious mental breakdown in 2007 that resulted in erratic and chaotic behavior, such as shaving her head and attacking an automobile with an umbrella. Her father and her lawyer were appointed co-conservators of her estate. It is unclear if this was voluntary or involuntary; however, Ms. Spears has purportedly not objected. Despite this, her fans, and even celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Rose McGowan, have mounted an online “Free Britney” movement. Ms. Spears, however, is not affiliated with it because the conservatorship helps her. It enables her to focus on her best interests, and her health, while protecting her finances.  It assists her with business decisions and management issues.  Prior to the conservatorship, she had multiple involuntary temporary psychiatric holds.  She lost custody of her children and was roasted in the trade papers.

Now, at least in part due to the conservatorship, she thrives. Though she still suffers from certain mental illnesses, she continues to make best-selling records, tour and appear at awards shows, and she even became the highest paid judge on the X-Factor.  So, while a conservatorship is meant to be a last resort, in the right situation it can be a solution. Like Ocham’s Razor, it is one solution to many problems

This is not meant to paint a rosy picture with no downside, but there is a huge gap between being able to do everything for yourself and nothing. There are dangers and downsides to any procedure where people are involved.  But it is important to remember that in this type of situation there are multiple levels of oversight. While it may not be the best solution in every scenario, it is a process that people should know more about and understand.

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