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Investigators Say Virginia Needs Stronger Safeguards for People Like Britney Spears

About 12,000 Virginians are under legal guardianship according to legislative analyst Joe McMahon.

“These tend to be adults who have severe illness or disability, traumatic injury, aging adults with dementia," he explains. "They are unable to make decisions and care for themselves.”

Virginia's Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee spent months studying the state's guardianship system.

When these people are called to the attention of a court, a relative, friend or lawyer is appointed to oversee their affairs, and guardians must fill out a form annually.

“Right now it’s seven questions. They’re all pretty broad. At most it’s the front and back of a piece of paper,” McMahon says.

He oversaw a detailed investigation that did not turn up anything like the case of Britney Spears.

“We didn’t come across anything that felt that striking in Virginia," he admits, "but of course part of the problem is we can’t say that for sure. There are 12,000 adults in guardianship.”

So the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee would like to see more detailed reports and suggests local social service agencies take a closer look.

“You provide local departments with the resources they need to actually go out and visit a sample of adults under guardianship in their locality each year to see what their condition is like, potentially talk to some of the care providers and just have a better sense of how that person is doing.”

There is a small state-run guardianship program which McMahon says is more effectively monitored, but when it comes to private guardians like Britney Spears’ father, he says more training is needed for judges and lawyers who oversee these arrangements, and Virginia law should clarify when a guardian can prevent visitation by others.

Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.