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October Roundup: Britney, Death Taxes, Rats Driving Cars

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Get out of her business

Each month, we like to survey the elder law landscape and share news stories we found interesting or helpful. The main October roundup item focuses on someone who’s not old: Britney Spears. She remains under conservatorship, a legal arrangement designed to help incapacitated people, often elderly but not always:

What’s the Deal With Britney?

Maria Puente, a reporter I worked with years ago at USA Today, this week wrote something relevant to my current career: Why Does Britney Spears Still Have a Conservator? Fleming & Curti handles many conservatorship cases, which find a person legally incapacitated and appoint someone to take over. The subject of the proceeding loses the right to function as an adult. The court oversees the arrangement as long as it lasts. Britney, at 35, plays Vegas, is on TV, and shows up regularly on the celeb scene. I’ve often asked myself the same question Maria did; Britney appears to be a functioning adult.

You may have heard that the pop star’s dad, Jamie, took over her affairs after she had a breakdown in 2007. For me, the incident has special meaning. At that same time, I decided to quit journalism and pursue law partly because that night, a newsroom staffer called me in the wee hours to say Britney had shaved her head and gotten a tattoo, and the website needed a story. Twelve years later, I’ve moved on, but Britney remains under court supervision. Note that in California, where Britney’s case is, the term “conservatorship” refers to both finances and daily living. In Arizona, we have conservators for finances and guardians for life decisions.

Maria’s story points out that Britney has never objected or sought an end to the arrangement. But, at least in Arizona, a conservator must terminate a conservatorship if the person under supervision becomes capable. Those of us who work in this area often say people should be free to make poor choices. Conservatorships are not substitutes for lack of wisdom — the arrangement is reserved for people who are so impaired that they can’t make decisions. Britney does not appear to be in that category.

There’s one clue from her probate file. A medical expert was appointed to determine whether Britney is “still subject to undue influence or to being taken advantage of.” With a net worth in excess of $59 million, she’s no doubt a target. Much of the file is understandably private, so there’s no way of knowing exactly what’s going on. The conservator’s powers may be limited, which is highly encouraged these days. Britney may have more control than outsiders assume. Still, if I had to take sides, I think I’d be in among the #freebritney fans.

In other October roundup news . . .

Study May Tempt States to Bring Back Estate Tax

A new study shows that the twelve states (and D.C.) that still have an estate tax can expect to enjoy some much needed revenue when rich residents die. Many states have eliminated their estate tax. But the study found that, for most states, estate tax revenues exceed the lost income tax revenue by 31%. However, the study also found that some wealthy people do move to no-tax states, especially as they get older. It also didn’t account for lost business revenue or local charitable donations.

Here’s Some Help After a Parent Dies

When a parent dies, it can be difficult to figure out what to do amid mind-fogging grief and emotional exhaustion. A checklist can help. (Note: an attorney also can help.)

Here’s Some Help Understanding IRA RMDS

When someone has an IRA, rules that govern when the money has to be taken out, known as required minimum distributions (RMDs). Different rules kick in when the owner dies and a beneficiary inherits. The rules get even more complicated if there are multiple beneficiaries. Retirement account rock star Natalie Choate illustrates with two scenarios.

Rats Driving In Cars Shed Light on Cognitive Function

Science may have found another reason it’s so hard for people to give up the car keys: Driving reduces stress. University of Richmond researchers taught rats to drive miniature vehicles and found that learning the task reduced the rats’ stress levels. The rat brains seem to have enjoyed the cognitive challenge, and ours might, too.

That’s the October roundup. See an item of interest we should consider? Please let us know.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.