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´´Bill to reform California probate system headed to governor’s desk´´: Legislation would make it more difficult to establish a conservatorship and easier to get out of one

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A landmark reform of California’s flawed probate system, spotlighted by the troubled Britney Spears case, is headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 1663, sailed unanimously through both houses of the state Legislature this week, promising relief to the elderly and disabled trapped in never-ending and potentially exploitive conservatorships. Newsom has until Sept. 30 to make a decision.

Conservatorship is a tool in probate court by which professionals appointed by a judge can decide, among other things, where people live, how their money is spent and even who they can talk to. Some activists argue that state prisoners have more civil rights than someone under a conservatorship.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, D-San Diego, the bill makes it more difficult to establish a conservatorship, easier to get out of one and promotes alternatives to court. It also codifies the use of supported decision-making, which basically is seeking informal help in making decisions rather than jumping to conservatorships.

When used properly, probate can be a way to protect the elderly and disabled from physical and financial bullying by family, friends and associates. But the process also can open the door for predatory professionals to exploit their clients, eating through their life savings and assets and walling them off from family.

And then there is the Spears case, where her right to make decisions was taken away and given to her father — sparking a nearly 13-year battle that ended in 2021 when her conservatorship was finally ended.

Maienschein said he witnessed abuses in the system while serving as a law clerk for a probate judge.

“It was personal for me,” he said. “I was young and working in conservatorship court. It left a big impression on me.”


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