Supporters of Britney Spears take part in protest “#FreeBritney” outside Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Nov. 10, 2020 in Los Angeles.

A conservatorship — often called a guardianship — puts a court-mandated guardian in charge of making decisions for people who have been found to be incapable of acting in their own best interests. Depending on the type of guardianship, that might be limited to just certain kinds of decisions, such as financial matters, or it could extend to every aspect of someone’s life, including medical care.

It’s most well-known as a system that elderly people are placed under — especially those who have dementia — but actually, conservatorships can be used for anyone who has a disability and is seen as unable to take care of themselves.
Because this standard can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and because there’s poor oversight of guardianships in general, it’s a system that can take advantage of the very people it’s supposed to protect — and, ultimately, violate a person’s fundamental right to self-determination.

There’s a universe of difference between helping someone live the life they want, and deciding the kind of life you think they should want. A kind guardian might deign to take into account the desires of the person they’re purporting to guard — but the danger is that they don’t have to.

A large part of the “cultural change” Crane mentions is in how we frame stories of disability. Self-determination should not be conditional on public opinion or institutional authority. “We need to recognize that everyone needs support, especially for complicated decisions,” Crane says. If you don’t have a disability, asking for support doesn’t usually lead to the verdict that you’re incapable of self-determination wholesale — yet this is what the guardianship system essentially says about people with disabilities.

Read more on Refinery29.

Editorial credit: Ringo Chiu /

This is an external article from our library

Everyone is talking about caregiving, but it can still be difficult to find meaningful information and real stories that go deep. We read (and listen to and watch and look at) the best content about caregiving and bring you a curated selection.

Have a great story about care work? Use our contact form to submit it to us so we can share it with the community!

Related Articles

Popular categories

After Caregiving
Finding Meaning
Finding Support

Don't see what you're looking for? Search the library

Share your thoughts


Share your thoughts and experiences

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Join our communities

Whenever you want to talk, there’s always someone up in one of our Facebook communities.

These private Facebook groups are a space for support and encouragement — or getting it off your chest.

Join our newsletter

Thoughts on care work from Cori, our director, that hit your inbox each Monday morning (more-or-less).

There are no grand solutions, but there are countless little ways to make our lives better.

Share your insights

Caregivers have wisdom and experience to share. Researchers, product developers, and members of the media are eager to understand the nature of care work and make a difference.

We have a group specifically to connect you so we can bring about change.