27 Aug 2020

#FreeBritney: Oops… I don’t have a power of attorney

A Californian case on the management of Britney Spears’ affairs highlights the value of granting a power of attorney


Britney Spears’ father Jamie has, until recently, had control over his daughter’s financial affairs. For 12 years he has been her ‘conservator’. There have been ongoing disputes over Jamie’s continued role – including Britney herself opposing Jamie returning to take on this position.

This blog does not attempt to get into the intricacies of Californian law or seek to compare and contrast conservatorship with Scottish processes. Rather, Britney’s situation highlights the importance of taking steps to be able to choose who YOU wish to manage your affairs should be unable to do so. It also documents the negatives associated with becoming involved in court processes in this area.

Power of attorney: you decide who will assist you

A power of attorney allows you to choose who makes decisions and assists you in the event that you are unable to do so for whatever reason. The reason could be lost or restricted capacity as well as for convenience such as being out of the country for a period of absence.

A power of attorney covers financial and management powers as well as health and well-being (including matters such as who you meet and visit). It is usually beneficial to having a wide range of powers given to the attorney. On the basis the chosen attorney is someone the granter of the power of attorney trusts and has confidence in, a wide suite of powers should not cause concern.

The point about trust and confidence is fundamental. A valuable part of a power of attorney is that it allows YOU to select your chosen attorney(s). The power is in your hands (it’s your prerogative, as such).

What happens if no power of attorney?

Without a power of attorney, a court decides and grants a guardianship order in favour of an individual or individuals (and for welfare potentially the local authority). And that decision comes at the end of a lead-in process involving medical reports, a mental health officer report and potentially other reports. That could feel intrusive for a family. That can all take time… at a moment when delays might be detrimental to health and the financial position. On financial matters, your assets might be frozen until the court grants the guardianship order.

As well as any delays (and any additional costs) associated with a court process, there is also the potential for dispute in some cases. That could be toxic. Attached to that is the fundamental point that the court process is not YOU making the decision. Only a power of attorney gives you the confidence that it is your chosen attorney(s). An attorney who is then able to make decisions and support you. And with the powers you wished to give them.

Respecting wishes and feelings

Again without attempting to delve into Californian law, one feature of the current Spears dispute is Britney’s wishes and feelings on the matter. In Scotland attorneys must respect the known wishes and feelings of the person they are supporting under the power of attorney. Similarly, known wishes and feelings must be taken into account when a court appoints a guardian. By granting a power of attorney, one of your key wishes and feelings can be implemented: the identity of your attorney(s).


Everyone should have a power of attorney

Irrespective of age or stage, everyone should grant a power of attorney.

It will give you comfort about who is going to deal with your affairs. It gives you that key bit of control. It also avoids involving a court or contests over who is appointed. It makes matters simpler for loved ones.

If you are affected by illness or accident, having a clearly and immediately empowered person(s) to help is one thing that can be taken off the ‘to do’ list at what will be a stressful time. It will, in respect of care, enable decisions to be taken swiftly and facilitate communication with medical professionals and others.

Making a power of attorney should be one item to tick off your own ‘to do’ list. And it is something that can be sorted even with social-distancing, including via video-call.

To make a power of attorney contact Alan Eccles – alaneccles@bkf.co.uk / 0141 221 6020